When Boulder-based advertising firm Crispin Porter + Bogusky set began constructing a marketing campaign to sell more carrots, its creative team studied consumers' "carrot habits," and learned all about the importance of crunch and snackability.
The team wanted to reach "savvy snackers," explains Tiffany Rolfe, the firm's vice president and executive creative director. "They are looking for the healthier alternatives but also want the cred of finding that new snack or discovering something a little bit different."
Crispin Porter + Bogusky was working for Bolthouse Farms, which sells nearly a billion pounds of carrots a year -- but after a decade of steady increases, sales of baby carrots have been falling for the past few years.
Bolthouse had entertained pitches from other ad agencies, but they mostly highlighted the healthful benefits of carrots. "There's not a lack of knowledge that eating a carrot is probably a good thing," says Rolfe. So Bolthouse "came to us and said, 'You know, we want to do something very different. We don't want to just talk about health benefits. There's probably something more to say.'"
And Crispin Porter + Bogusky soon found it. "A lot of what we were discovering is that people are eating less carrots and vegetables in general because they're eating junk food and snack food and boxed things," says Rolfe. "So as a strategy, we the creatives work with the planners to figure out what we need to do to think about carrots in a totally different way."
If people were eating more junk food, the obvious next step was to make people think of baby carrots as a junk food -- not as a vegetable.
Bolthouse CEO Jeff Dunn is a former executive for Coca-Cola, so he's well-versed in marketing junk food and liked Crispin Porter + Bogusky's approach.
"The brief was essentially, 'How do we re-launch baby carrots as the ultimate snack-your-face-off, crunchy-munchy?'" says Rolfe. "That stemmed into the entire idea of junk food. What we realized is that carrots are a snack food, but we need to go further with it. We need to treat them like junk food. Junk foods are the ones in front that have attitude that people enjoy eating and crave. Right away they were like, 'This is what we're looking for.'"
Rolfe and her colleagues set out to essentially copy the tricks of soda, chip and cookie marketing. While baby carrots already had the advantage of being physically snack-like -- small, crunchy, colorful and dippable -- they lacked the personality that most junk foods are branded with.
"What we were finding was people liked carrots," says Rolfe. "They didn't dislike them or didn't want to have them in their snacking world, they just didn't think about them enough or they just thought they were boring. Adding that excitement around the snacking vegetable was something we could do."
So the creative team created the tag line "Eat 'Em Like Junk Food," along with three commercials, a web site, an iPhone video game app, a YouTube series of short videos featuring two slacker grocery-store employees, and new packaging -- all mimicking junk food. But just copying the junk-food formula didn't seem quite right.
"No vegetable has had any marketing," says Rolfe, "so what can we do to make them more like junk food -- but at the same time poke fun at junk food and expose some of their crazy marketing tactics?"
The result was the commercials, a parody of junk-food advertising. One spot features a man flying through a canyon in a rocket-powered shopping cart while a woman shoots baby carrots out of a large machine gun; a pterodactyl flies through at the end for no apparent reason.
Another commercial mocking dessert snacks stars a sultry woman in black lace playing seductively with a baby carrot, while a female voice tells the viewer to "Feel that feeling. You know the feeling." Then an Isaac Hayes-esque voice declares, "Overt sexual innuendo."
Last September the commercials, new packaging and grocery-store displays were tested in Cincinnati, Ohio and Syracuse, New York; a couple of schools even got baby carrot vending machines. Within two months, sales of baby carrots in the test markets were up 10 to 12 percent over the year before.
Baby carrots have been tied to the animated movie Hop, which opened on April 1. And before Halloween, bags of "Scarrots" were sold in Wal-Mart stores across the nation.
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But there's one place where baby carrots can't mimic junk food: the profit margin. Bolthouse is now deciding how far it wants to push the campaign; convincing Grimmway Farms, which produces just as many carrots, to share some of the costs could help expand its scope.
"They'll never have the funds of an actual junk food, so that's why you have to be more creative with the idea," says Rolfe. "We wanted to redefine what junk food meant. The idea of junk food to us was something you can just have fun with, and you just snack because you want to snack. It doesn't mean it has to be unhealthy for it to be fun and junk."