Monday, July 13, 2009

Vinegar War

It’s a simple one-page ad. I’d say that brand cant hasn’t been so well executed since the cheese toppings on certain frozen pizzas were accused, accurately but meaninglessly, of including casein (Glue?!?).

And I am particularly grateful to reporter Teresa Lindeman. After I saw the ad in Woman’s Day, I found her extensive article about the new Heinz campaign, “Vinegar wars spark high-octane Heinz ads,” in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette dated June 18. If the Heinz ad and Lindeman’s article aren’t required reading for some uni’s mass communications class, they ought to be.

When a single category’s worth almost $250 million and your price point’s down around your ankles, it’s time to “do something.” Anything. So here’s this Heinz condiment ad – a great example of advertising propaganda – asking homemakers that one provoking headline question:

“What field does your vinegar come from?”

When you decide to take your brand to war, propaganda is a key element. Propaganda goes beyond advertising. It’s “…communication aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause.” The cause, in this case, is the natural organic goodness of Heinz vinegar. The victor wins back lost market share and gets better grocery-store margins.

Lindeman leads with exactly the right touch: The image disturbs. On the one side, stand black towers of an oil facility, and on the other, green stalks of corn plants are seen against a blue sky.

No matter that the oilfield’s 1940s-era rigs comes from some deep photo archive, maybe an Andreas Feininger shot from Life. No matter that it’s difficult to find petroleum-distilled table vinegar in any US supermarket.

No matter, in fact, that it’s neither illegal nor unhealthy to use vinegar distilled from hydrocarbons. The creative does a heckuva job for Heinz, which clearly wants careful homemakers to react strongly to the imagery of the ad. (The full-page advert is supported by a handful a handful of other fine executions under the general campaign theme, HEINZ. GROWN, NOT MADE.TM)

The need for campaign is covered in delicious detail in the Lindeman article; the most telling point invokes the commoditization of vinegar.

Private-label vinegars are cleaning up. Collectively, they’re outselling the Heinz products more than three-to-one. Heinz lost 10%-plus share in unit sales last year. That’s a lot of millions. That’s worth a small war and Heinz has chosen its ground. Every label I read at Kroger’s and HEB says the store brands are made from natural products, too. But Heinz is planting doubt and doing a damn fine job of it.

The first volley of the war, this ad campaign is brand-building on a narrowly focused but national scale. Not to mention propagandizing at the same time.

I’m counting on Lindeman to let me know how the battles go.

The blog post headline is taken from the article by Teresa F Lindeman first published on June 18, 2009. All rights reserved and a fine piece of business journalism, too. A concise post on the “Tiny Choices” blog by Karina Tipton and Jenn Sturiale has outlined the issue of natural- versus synthetic-based vinegars.


Anonymous said...

I think your analysis of this ad is better than the ad itself. Given (as you noted) how hard it is to even find vinegar in the US that is not made from natural products, I wonder whether Heinz is risking a back-lash from this ad and its FUD-based (fear, uncertainty, doubt) platform.

Teresa Lindeman said...

Thanks for the link -- and the analysis.

Richard Laurence Baron said...

Ms Lindeman, you did all the heavy lifting.

Richard Laurence Baron said...

Greg, thanks for the note. You and I can guess about customers' reactions to the ad but they'd only be guesses. I wonder if the campaign itself really has enough weight behind it to make a dent.

Let's see if Heinz responds. Ta for Tuesday...