Tickle Your Senses

By IV Whitman
Agency: Leo Burnett, Chicago
Client: Kelloggs Pop-Tarts
Category: 1999

As his prize, IV was given a choice of the cash or a puppy. IV, his wife and two sons decided the puppy would be nicer to snuggle with than cold, hard cash.

The following paper reveals how by exploring, understanding and defining the values, essence and character of the Pop-Tarts brand, planning helped craft the execution of a breakthrough U.S. adult brand campaign.

Background. Welcome to the culture of a quirky, modern-age food. Kelloggs Pop-Tarts was introduced to the U.S. market in 1964, a year in which Bewitched was a hit, black light posters were about to become all the rage, The Beatles came to the U.S., more troops were landing in Vietnam, and the zip code had just made the scene. It was a year and an era that watched this quirky brand of shelf-stable toaster pastries begin to weave itself into the fickle fabric of American pop culture - culture operating under the naive modernist assumption that everything gets better through science. From cars to warfare, space travel to food.

Just innovate and they will come. Historically, Pop-Tart's advertising has relied heavily on two messages over its three-decade life span: innovation and convenience. In 1964, there were only four flavors of Pop-Tarts; today there are 39. And while shelf-stable foods were just beginning to take off in 1964, today there are thousands from which to choose. Consequently, differentiating the Pop-Tarts brand in such a competitive environment would require a new way of thinking about the brand - one that transcends the worn out clichés of innovation and convenience.

Hmmmm. When you don't advertise, the brand can decline. While the Pop-Tarts brand has experienced three years of continual growth among kids, the brand's consumption among adults has been in steady decline since 1996. This lopsided performance is attributed in part to the near absence of adult mainline copy on air from 1996 to 1998. This is not to say there have not been attempts to put mainline adult copy on air. In fact, there have been twelve attempts since 1996. However, all campaigns died in copy testing.

The Need: Make Pop-Tarts relevant to adults who loved them when they were kids. Planning's role at this point was to understand how to create an advertising campaign that would make Pop-Tarts a front of mind convenience food for young adults. Appropriately, the team agreed to a) study Pop-Tarts consumers, b) understand the history of the brand and c) define the brand's values, essence and character.

The Process: Numbers and Hunches. Step One: Data. In addition to poring over dusty research summaries and data decks, our young brand team went to the Pop-Tarts vaults in Battle Creek, Michigan, and sifted through all the Pop-Tarts archives, from point-of-purchase material in 1964 to print ads from the Seventies. We also interviewed William LaMothe, retired CEO of Kellogg's and co-inventor of Pop-Tarts in the early Sixties, to get his perspective on the brand. After one month of initial digging, the team gathered together for a three-daybrain dump to analyze the data and understand what we had to accomplish. Our objective was to plot an investigation of the brand and its consumers, as well as craft a handful of relevant concepts to use as creative stimulants to spark thought and discussion in qualitative. The concepts developed were brought to life later as rip-o-matics, and articulated particular themes in regard to Pop-Tarts: Variety & Versatility, Fun & Lighthearted, Off-Centered and American Icon. We knew that we needed to show things to consumers to make them think, and we hoped the rips would push respondents to tell us things they just couldn't bring up in normal conversation.

Step Two: Qualitative. Prior to focus groups, respondents were given the assignment to answer what Pop-Tarts meant to them with a drawing. While in groups, moms, kids, men and women were then asked to discuss their drawings, their associations and memories of the brand. They were then exposed to each of the rip-o-matics and asked to describe what was Pop-Tarts about each. This exercise functioned as the jumping off point for discussion. We wanted to provoke them to think about the brand, pull out all stops and be creative.

Getting past the obvious. While some members of the brand team, including myself, were of the persuasion Pop-Tarts should take advantage of the retro trend, our respondents had little patience with the idea initially. They told us plainly Pop-Tarts was just a fast and easy, convenient food. Simple as that. Kitsch, camp, retro, the past they just couldn't go there. But after further discussion, our respondents confessed that Pop-Tarts was more than just a food. They said it had a fun outlook on life: Pop-Tarts takes me out of me for some reason. They just make me happy. Fun and happy?

Eventually, we surmised from discussions the fun of Pop-Tarts was like the curious, open-handed spirit of a kid. Not an age; rather, a mind-set of play, humor and color: Eating Pop-Tarts is like you wake up and it's all black and white. Then you go downstairs and it's like lots of colors. Some respondents, though not overtly, linked Pop-Tarts to our spirit of the Sixties idea not the decade so much as its momentum of exploration and experience. To others, it was simply about the basic joy of youth and all the fun things it exudes and symbolizes. The team started to refer to this as the value of kidness.

While we began to understand the perceptions of the roles of Pop-Tarts, we also noticed significant differences in the way adults and kids talked about the brand. Kids were more willing to talk about its personality and emotion. But adults tended to forget the personality and talk just about the functional attributes. Perhaps it was because the rules were different for adults: life got tough, the work got harder, consequences were stiffer, and there was no time to play. We wanted to speak to adults about Pop-Tarts in a real way and needed to find an inlet to encourage them to let go and throw some color into the picture. We needed to go beyond the feel-like-a-kid-again strategy that every other older brand was coughing up. Yet, we also knew it was important to have our adults see Pop-Tarts from the same vantage as kids as a symbol of autonomy and independence, a liberator to let them play, eat whatever, and never feel guilty about it. A delicate balance. As one young woman in Charlotte, North Carolina remarked, More adults need to realize they don't need to feel embarrassed to eat Pop-Tarts.

Values, Essence & Character.* Coming out of qualitative, the team crafted five powerful values for Pop-Tarts we felt both reflected past and current consumer ideas about the brand as well as its own particular strengths. From these values we developed the core idea of the brand—its essence. With the essence we wanted to root the brand in the spirit of the Sixties, but also dramatize the humor, color, heritage and child-like aloofness of Pop-Tarts. Ultimately, we ended up with a statement that was more than simply an administrative compromise between the client and agency. Rather, it became our brand team's mantra. On top of everything else, we wanted to take the values and essence a step further, so we built in a character through which all innovations and communications would be filtered.

Trying to break the convention of Kellogg convention. While junior and mid-level members of the client brand team were sold on our thinking, it required a formal presentation to Kellogg's with a buy-off from their upper management to move forward. No easy task. Kellogg is renowned for strategies and advertising that highlight traditional product attributes: the you need it cause it's bigger, better, faster, more convenient and chock full of more berries than ever before message. Our presentation, however, encouraged the brand and its executives to think about Pop-Tarts in another dimension: the dimension of emotion, color, fun and lightheartedness. The dimension of the brand's essence, not its attributes. To supplement the presentation, we presented reels and print ads of brands that have experienced success by following this direction, namely the Apple iMac and the Volkswagen Beetle. Management was captivated and the strategy was sold.

The Campaign: Tickle Your Senses. Throughout the briefing and creative development process, teams were encouraged to focus on the essence and personality of the brand. Ultimately, a campaign idea emerged which placed the food as protagonist, antagonist and hero all at once, and captured the color, fun, and spirit of the brand. The campaign was entitled Tickle Your Senses and celebrated the multi-sensual appeal of Pop-Tarts. In the Flowers tv spot, clusters of Pop-Tarts spin and spiral to a crescendo of kaleidoscopic intensity on top of a distorted and flanged guitar soundtrack. Print performs as a static spin-off of the Flowers spot and works elegantly to deliver color, humor and fun while showcasing the food. From the eyes to the taste buds, the nose to the memory, the Tickle Your Sensesi idea succeeds in leveraging the personality, character and values of Pop-Tarts by letting the food speak for itself. No actors biting-and-smiling or reading strategic copy. Just the food as a living, breathing articulation of the brand's values, essence and character.

As a result, Kellogg's Pop-Tarts has advertising support that is engaging its young adult target and is appearing in media never before considered by Pop-Tarts: Gear, Details, Cosmopolitan and Rolling Stone magazines, as well as in Launch, a new interactive CD-ROM magazine specializing in popular music and culture. And to add icing to the cake, we blew the roof off in copy testing, which always makes the client a little happier and lets our creatives sleep a little easier.

*The values, essence and character are not included in this public presentation at the request of the client.