In the sports world, the ultimate short-term goal may be to win a championship; but every team owner’s dream would be to create a dynasty.
Championships, while convincing, are not prerequisite (think the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s and 2000s, or the Packers’ run of QB dominance still going today, for instance); a team simply needs to dominate over a long period of time in one specific area.
In the meat and poultry industry, a few companies could qualify as dynasties. Without a doubt, Oscar Mayer, a division of Kraft Foods, qualifies as an all-time legacy brand simply for its perception and visibility.
Oscar Mayer remains well-known for its traditional advertising and marketing icons — the Weinermobile, the “My Bologna Has a First Name …” jingle, the Weiner Whistle, etc.
Additionally, however, Oscar Mayer has had consistent, large-scale, often-trailblazing success with innovative product launches over the past few decades — taking the brand beyond the legacy status into “dynasty” territory.

Decades of dominance

From the successful launch of Lunchables in 1988, to the Deli Fresh brand launch in 2003, through the introduction of Oscar Mayer Carving Board and Oscar Mayer Selects Hot Dogs in 2010, and on to the expansion in 2012 of Selects into cold cuts and bacon, the Madison, Wis.-based company has yet to shy away from taking a product-development leap if it has the knowledge that consumers demand such a change.
These launches are not simply line extensions or flavor additions — Oscar Mayer’s innovation has helped create new segments and drive demand from consumers across a variety of deli lines.
The brand has been rewarded for its foresight, having grown in the cold cuts category, particularly over the last two years — at the same time that many competitors in the segment saw sales decline, explains Tom Lopez, vice president of marketing, Kraft Foods.
“As we think about Carving Board, Deli Fresh and Selects, we’re certainly trying to revolutionize cold cuts in the meat case,” he says. “We’ve grown [according to Nielsen numbers] an average of 3% from 2010 to 2012, and our market share increased 0.6 points on a $5.8 billion category.”
Lopez attributes the success primarily to the brand’s overall focus on meeting consumer demand through research and development efforts.
“This great run from 2010 to 2012, I think really boils down to having great insights, translating them into industry-leading innovation and then tying that all together in a bow with great marketing,” he adds. “From an insights standpoint, consumers have been telling us that they want foods that are just fresher and less processed.”
Deli Fresh, Carving Board and Selects take advantage of that nugget of information and combine it with Oscar Mayer’s understanding that consumers also want cleaner ingredient labels and an attractive appearance to the product and package.
“Deli Fresh has garnered roughly a 13.8 share of total cold cuts; Carving Board is nearing a 1.5 share; and, right out the gates, Cold Selects is about 1 share point,” Lopez adds. “That means consumers are choosing our products, and we feel great about that.”

Adding some “POP”

In December, Oscar Mayer proudly unveiled its new “Proof of Principle” (POP) Room at its Madison headquarters — an extension of the facility’s pilot plant that allows the product-development team to work on projects on an even smaller scale than the pilot plant would allow.
Tricia White, vice president, RD&Q, for Oscar Mayer, believes this new facility will put more R&D muscle behind Oscar Mayer’s innovative culture once it’s fully assimilated into the process.
“We’re just really starting to use this, but it already is helping with some flavor improvements and modifications,” White relays. “Now we can do them on smaller batches and really see what’s happening on a smaller scale.”
At presstime, the Oscar Mayer R&D team was planning special events around the POP Room in order to get employees used to the form and function of the room, including an informal, in-house sausage-making contest, among other things. Once the room is a complete part of the R&D process and employees are familiar with its capabilities, Randy Glynn, senior R&D engineer for Kraft Foods, expects bigger and better returns.
“It will help us accelerate ideas faster through the development process,” he says. “From a cost perspective, it will help as well. Obviously, it takes money, time and resources to [work in] the pilot plant. In the POP Room, we can scale all of that down.”
Lopez adds that the POP Room will help the different teams involved in new product development collaborate better in getting ideas off the ground — both internally and externally.
“[It will speed up] innovation to address unmet consumer needs, and it’ll help us be much more collaborative with our customers,” he says. “We may have an idea for a customer or our customer may have an idea for us, and we can now go into the POP Room and develop that much quicker than having to shut down the plant to run it or schedule around these plants that run at such high speeds.
“There’s no better way to bring that idea to life than with a real-life mock-up, and that’s what the POP plant allows us to do,” Lopez relays.

A hot prospect in cold cuts

No dynasty continues without a steady stream of “the next generation,” and Oscar Mayer’s product-development dynasty is no exception. The brand currently has a strong roster in cold cuts, and it also features an up-and-comer — the hottest prospect to bolster the Oscar Mayer dynasty right now.
Early data tells Oscar Mayer that its Carving Board Pulled Pork product is getting great traction in the market. After a soft launch in October 2012, the brand stepped up promotion around football season and the start of the New Year, explains Lopez. He says the item fits perfectly with the consumer demand for clean ingredient labels in that it features no artificial preservatives.
Furthermore, Carving Board Pulled Pork meets consumer demands on appearance and customizability — a key opportunity for Oscar Mayer to differentiate its offering from other pulled pork products out there.
“First, we certainly could have done a product with sauce, but consumers love that they can customize the sauce any way they want or use it in empanadas, for instance — it’s very flexible,” he says. “People have very particular tastes when it comes to barbecue sauce, so that’s one of the best things about Carving Board Pulled Pork.”
Glynn, who was involved in the development of the product from Day One, affirms that keeping the meat visible in the package was among the priorities in development.
“We wanted to showcase that meat in a clear package,” he says. “The consumers see what they’re buying. It’s not hidden under a plastic lid where you can’t see what’s in it.”
Carving Board Pulled Pork comes in two flavor varieties, and is actually located in the pre-packaged deli meats section of the supermarket — a location that suits Oscar Mayer just fine.
“From a household penetration standpoint, the number of people who shop the pre-packaged meat case, versus the number of people that shop the home meal replacement section where the competitors’ products are located, is more than twice as high,” Lopez explains. “You just get more traffic in the pre-packaged meat case.”
The product itself is based on convenience and authenticity — Glynn and his team did a portion of the initial R&D on the product using their smokers at home, he says.
“Like the traditional barbecue guys, we’re applying ‘low and slow’ technology to it — trying to replicate the best that we can in a commercially scaled environment,” Glynn explains.

The fan experience

Oscar Mayer has had remarkable success over the last 40 to 50 years at engraining its brand in the minds of consumers through wave after wave of catchy, almost timeless advertising and marketing campaigns. The brand has also had success with keeping icons, such as the Weinermobile, from becoming stale and outdated.
That effort continues today, as Oscar Mayer invigorates and contemporizes its advertising message.
“We’re definitely changing the face of the brand and keeping it contemporary, just as contemporary now as it was 20 years ago,” Lopez says, adding that consumers now view the brand as more than just the traditional Weinermobile and jingles — Oscar Mayer is relevant and innovative.
Tom Bick, director of integrated advertising for Kraft Foods, joined the company two years ago after decades of advertising experience with big-name consumer packaged goods companies, and has spearheaded the modification of the outward message of the Oscar Mayer brand.
“The goal here is to raise the bar and not to think about it as, ‘We want to be the best in the meat industry,’ from a brand advertising standpoint,” Bick says. “We’re looking the soda companies, the beer companies; historically, those companies have done good branding work.”
In its position as an “everyday brand for everyday use,” Bick believes Oscar Mayer needs to leverage its position as a pop-culture icon more than it has — becoming even more culturally relevant. Part of that transition at Oscar Mayer has been to take a new approach to what the American consumer views to be ideal in society.
“No longer are American people looking at everyday life through this sort of saccharine lens of what’s ideal and optimal,” Bick explains. “People have become very marketing savvy, and so brands that are popular are the ones that strip away the pretense and a little bit of the hype, and have a more realistic view on life.”
The new advertising campaign crosses over all the product lines, from cold cuts to bacon to hot dogs, and focuses on “feeding the good side of life.”
“We know that life is not perfect, and if we can give you, the consumer, a reason to smile and find the humor in everyday parts of life — to sort of roll with the punches — that’s a good thing,” Bick says. “That was the creative inspiration for the campaign. If you look at [the TV show] ‘Modern Family’ and comedies that seem to resonate today, it’s because they give viewers a peek behind the curtain and say, ‘This is what real families deal with.’”
Lopez believes Oscar Mayer has positioned itself in the sweet spot between real life and good moments, creating a humorous, yet credible message that consumers enjoy.
“Our previous campaign was almost more about Hallmark-type moments, which worked then,” he says. “This campaign still takes real-life moments, but puts them into a realistic light, telling consumers, ‘Hey, you can laugh about the holiday party. You can laugh about how sometimes the tailgate isn’t what you dreamed it would be. You can laugh about your grandfather, who sometimes is a little more transparent then you’d like him to be.’ That’s life. That’s real.”
Bick and Lopez both cite Landor Associates research that has proven this shift is working for Oscar Mayer — that the brand has become more contemporary and relevant than it had been. Bick believes this transition period is just the beginning of the effort. A large foray into social media and impromptu marketing efforts, modeled off the success of 2012 Bacon Barter — in which comedian Josh Sankey successfully traveled across the United States using only Oscar Mayer Butcher Thick Cut bacon as currency.
“It’s endless what we can do with this campaign, if we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Bick concludes.
With more muscle behind its efforts and an even more cohesive message supporting the pillars of its primary brand, Oscar Mayer continues to respond to what today’s consumers say they want — without devaluing the traditional marketing methods that have carried its dynasty this far.