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Not since the Reagan Administration declared ketchup a vegetable has there been such buzz about the famous condiment. But this time, ketchup is getting a tad more respect, thanks to an innovative user-generated marketing campaign launched by venerable H.J. Heinz, which sells more than $2.5 billion worth of ketchup, condiments and sauces worldwide each year in 140 countries.
To get an idea of just how popular the ubiquitous condiment is, check out these figures: Each year Heinz sells 650 million bottles of ketchup and makes 11 billion packets of ketchup and dressings -- at least two packets for every person on earth.
But according to Heinz spokesperson Tracey Parsons, "The World's Favorite Ketchup" is more than a condiment -- "It's an ingredient and a 'topper,' not to mention a bonafide cultural icon that people have a real passion for."
Parsons said Heinz receives thousands of letters, emails and calls from consumers every year who want to share their experiences and stories of why they love Heinz Ketchup.
In fact, added Michael Bollinger, director of creative services for Pittsburgh, PA-based Smith Brothers, Heinz's ad agency, one letter in particular really sparked everyone's creative juices. A woman had recently carried out her father's request that he be buried with a bottle of Heinz Ketchup.
"The woman's father had carried a bottle of Heinz through Europe in World War II, and it not only made the K-rations go down a lot easier, it was a constant reminder of home," said Bollinger.
"We thought that a consumer-generated ad contest would be a great opportunity for our biggest fans to share their stories," Parsons added. "We also found that consumers were already creating their own videos and ads about Heinz Ketchup and posting them on YouTube, so we embraced the phenomenon and leveraged it from a marketing standpoint."
Planning began last fall with a team comprised of executives from Heinz, YouTube, Google (which owns YouTube) and Smith Brothers.
Heinz wanted the campaign to kick off in the spring, so to fast-track planning, weekly team meetings were held, according to Google National Industry Director for CPG Kevin Kells.
Although the target demographic audience was literally anyone and everyone who uses Heinz Ketchup (Parsons said more people have ketchup in their house than salt and pepper), Kells added that they particularly wanted "June Cleaver" moms and their kids to participate.
The campaign was launched, without any teaser ads or advance promotion, on April 16. While Heinz declined to divulge total campaign costs, Parsons said, "It's an increased spend for us over last year and definitely the most comprehensive, integrated campaign in the brand's 128-year history."
The integrated campaign surrounds the consumer, combining on-pack and in-store promotions, advertising, public relations and online elements. For the first time, Heinz is promoting its unique, contest-based campaign on the front and back labels of both consumer bottles (more than 57 million) and food service packets (more than 200 million) to communicate the ketchup campaign. "Top This TV Challenge" is the official website, which has complete information/details about the contest.
Pithy sayings placed on the bottles and packets have included, "Starving for the Spotlight?" and "Want a Taste of Fame?" Heinz is also promoting the voting phase with labels reading "America, It's In Your Hands."
Previously, noted Parsons, the company's "Say Something Ketchuppy" promotion was only featured on 36 oz. bottles and still generated 40,000 responses.
"Now we're not only blocking out the entire Heinz Ketchup shelf, but we're also leveraging with our food service partners," she said. "No other Heinz Ketchup campaigns have been promoted online in this size and scope."
Video submissions to YouTube ended on Aug. 6. More than 8,000 videos were uploaded since the contest's launch on April 16. Voting started Aug. 27 and ends Sept. 10. A panel of qualified judges from Heinz and outside sources will evaluate the eligible entries based on the judging criteria outlined in the Official Rules section on the Heinz "Top This TV Challenge" website. Elements to be judged include originality (40 percent); overall appeal (30 percent) and likelihood to motivate people to use Heinz Ketchup (30 percent).
Fifteen finalists will be selected. The winner snares $57,000 (the odd amount, of course, is another promotional tie-in to the famous Heinz 57 Varieties slogan) and four runner-up prizes of $5,700 each will also be awarded. Winners will be announced on YouTube and also announced and aired on national TV in mid-September. Heinz has not yet announced the media buy.
YouTube entries have been wide-ranging: comedic skits, raps, jingles, monologues, animated cartoons, traditional ad spots and artistic drawings. Parsons said the company also received scores of letters from people who didn't have access to a computer but wanted to share their ideas for the next Heinz Ketchup commercial.
"Someone from a prison even sent a letter with an idea about how Heinz Ketchup makes prison food taste good," Parsons said. "The level of creativity really blew us away -- the quality of entries and contest interest far exceeded our expectations."
YouTube metrics thus far are impressive -- 1.18 million views of the "Top This TV Challenge" video; 245,000 views of the brand channel and 1,127 subscribers to the brand channel. More than 8,000 commercials were submitted and of these, 6,000 were submitted to the Top This TV Challenge contest and about 4,000 qualified entries into the contest. Qualified commercials have been viewed more than 4 million times. Heinz nixed about 2,000 for various reasons -- length, copyright infringement or for being too risqué.
When site traffic is combined with YouTube numbers, there have been 7.7 million views since the April 16 launch and Heinz said consumers have interacted with the brand for more than 105,000 hours to date (spending time on the website and watching videos).
Although Heinz isn't the first to roll out a consumer-generated ad contest (others have included the Doritos Super Bowl ad contest, a recent make-your-own commercial contest sponsored by Malibu Caribbean rum and more), company executives are thrilled with the response thus far; in fact, Heinz recently announced the launch of the "Top This Take Two" contest, which will kick off in October.
"The YouTube campaign has been successful because it's holistic and engages people about ketchup," said Kells.
YouTube Head of Advertising Sales Suzie Reider summed up the campaign:
"Heinz has shown that they understand how to engage the YouTube community and participate in a way that encourages people to be advocates for their brand," she said. "Heinz is connecting with people on the site in an appealing and unobtrusive way."
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