Food companies are increasingly turning to non-traditional marketing to keep up with the expectations of millennials, the largest and most-influential segment of the U.S. population. Words like authentic and meaningful best describe this new storytelling approach that's as much about building relationships as it is about selling anything.
"More than almost anything else, millennials crave information," says Michael Parrish Dudell, a bestselling author and an expert on millennial marketing. "You have to remember, this a generation that was raised on unfettered access — access to ideas, information, knowledge, data, etc. At the same time, millennials expect more from the brands they support and in many ways are savvier consumers. This has created a perfect storm or, as I like to think of it, a perfect opportunity for businesses of all shapes and size to have more authentic conversations with their audience."
Below are video examples of how six food companies are artfully communicating a message, as well as a business philosophy.
Panera: "Live Consciously. Eat Deliciously"
The use of a Rube Goldberg machine in advertising is nothing new (remember that brilliant "Cog" commercial from Honda?) but credit Panera with using the concept to promote its all-natural food values. The device, built in a circle, is reflective of Panera's day, which begins and ends with the same commitment to quality food and community. "A Rube Goldberg device is a cause and effect, like a chain-reaction device," says Bob Partington, co-director on the ad. "And the idea is, all these little things in this circle represent all the difficult decisions and the hard road that Panera takes in creating this really great product."
Panera has since followed up its "Live Consciously" ad — which has been viewed over 2.4 million times on YouTube — with additional videos spotlighting everything from the pineapples it uses to the clean ingredients it sources.
Clif Bar: "Farmers Speak"
For its latest campaign, Clif Bar decided to "give a voice to the stories of organic ingredients and the farmers that grow them." The first video, which focuses on an organic oats farm in Canada, is beautiful in its simplicity, combining engaging storytelling, family values, and a subtle dose of education about the benefits of organic farming. It's a brilliant start, if only because it forges a connection between the consumer and the farmer. Who wouldn't be more inclined to support a company that supports a multi-generational farming family?
Domino's: "The Pizza Turnaround"
One of the earliest honest marketing campaigns on this list will also go down as one of the harshest and, subsequently, the most successful. In 2009, Domino's Pizza had a problem: the company was known more for the quality of delivery than the quality of the food. New president and CEO Patrick Doyle, recognizing the need for serious change, decided to highlight the most glaring consumer complaints — turning the company's shortcomings into a motivational tool. To further the company's commitment to quality, Domino's also released a four-minute documentary called "The Pizza Turnaround," which detailed the company's reboot. The end result not only resulted in a tastier experience for consumers, but also a resurgence in the company's business. Since the documentary was released, Domino's stock has soared more than 400 percent.
Chipotle "The Scarecrow"
Following the success of its "Back to the Start" short in 2011, Chipotle set out to win consumer hearts again with its "Scarecrow" campaign. The beautifully animated short, accompanied by a haunting Fiona Apple rendition of "Pure Imagination," features a scarecrow increasingly saddened by the realities of the factory farm where he works. In the end, he decides to open his own restaurant featuring only fresh, all-natural ingredients — a nod to Chipotle's "food with integrity" motto.
The ad has since become one of the most recognizable examples of meaningful brand storytelling, totaling more than 13 million views on YouTube and winning several awards.
Honest Tea: "Origins" series
Launched in 2012, Honest Tea's "Origins" Web series provides consumers with a detailed look at the international growers of its organic, fair-trade ingredients. From the cane sugar grown in Paraguay to the black tea gardens of India, each short video is meant to reaffirm the company's "Honest" branding and expose customers to the people behind each bottle. "We strive to connect people more closely to the natural world and the communities that produce our ingredients,” said co-founder Seth Goldman. That approach appears to be working: the company recently sold its 1 billionth bottle and is on track to exceed $130 million in sales for 2014.
Linda McCartney Foods: "Heart of the Country"
For its first television commercial in more than 15 years, vegetarian brand Linda McCartney Foods turned to animation to tell a story about the brand's values. The one-minute short, which includes a song by Paul McCartney and narration from singer Elvis Costello, touches on animal advocacy, environmentalism, and the company's commitment to all-natural ingredients.
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