CME abuses more animals (not really) for Hostess

Marketer: Interstate Bakeries Corporation...
August 1, 1999

Marketer: Interstate Bakeries Corporation

Mark Dirkes, senior VP of marketing; Stan Osman, VP of marketing, Hostess; Mike Redd, senior marketing manager, Hostess

Agency: Campbell Mithun Esty (CME), Minneapolis

John Hurst, executive creative director; Cathy Grisham, creative director; Evan Petty, executive producer; Clark Tate, art director; Darryl Kluskowski, art director; Ben Fruehauf, copywriter; Glenn Sherling, management supervisor; Diane Ridgway-Cross, account supervisor

Spot Shop: Atherton & Associates, Los Angeles

Vadim Perelman, director

Post: Film Graphics Productions, Sydney, Australia

CG: Animal Logic, Sydney, Australia

Markets: U.S. national

The idea: To rebuild the Hostess snack cake brands from ground zero for kids ages six to 14 using humor and an emphasis on play value.

The campaign: Two new spots are being added to the Where’s the Cream Filling? TV ad campaign, which has run since 1995 on spot TV and cable. New ads Opossum and Rhino launch on August 9 to refresh the campaign for the key back-to-school sales period. The ads will air on spot TV, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, ABC Saturday mornings and will make a prime-time debut during ABC’s TGIF block. Some point-of-sale materials will support.

The strategy:

Everyone knows what a Twinkie is these days, but that wasn’t always the case. Along with fellow snacks HoHos, Ding Dongs and Hostess Cupcakes, the oblong yellow cakes have been brought back from years of relative obscurity by the Where’s the Cream Filling? campaign from CME. In the process, the agency has learned how a campaign can break standard kids wear-out patterns, and when to leave well enough alone.

The campaign was originally conceived back in 1995, shortly after Interstate Bakeries purchased Ralston Purina-owned Continental Baking and its Hostess snack cake brands.

‘In the late `80s, a lot of the healthy foods were beginning to take off, and frankly, Ralston made a strategic decision that as the Hostess brand was in decline, they were not going to support it, and pretty much all advertising support was cut,’ says Glenn Sherling, CME’s management supervisor for the Interstate account.

In an effort to resuscitate the brand, Interstate hired CME, which turned to research-both quantitative and qualitative-to try and find the key to putting the Twinkie back on top.

Through focus group and other testing, some surprising results surfaced. The first was that moms had long memories, and even though the cakes hadn’t been advertised for years, a history going back to the 1930s meant that parents had a nostalgic affection for the brands. The second finding was that kids were not familiar with the brand, but they still liked the taste of the cakes once they tried them. The third, perhaps key, finding was that the snacks had an inherent play value. Without prompting, kids broke open the cakes and licked or scooped out the cream filling before polishing off the cake’s shell.

‘I think that was kind of a surprise for everyone, because we weren’t gummy worms or gooey sour pets,’ says Diane Ridgway-Cross, CME’s Hostess account supervisor. ‘The Twinkie has been the Twinkie for 70 years now and hasn’t really changed that much, so when we did this research, it was really heartening to find they were still fun for kids.’

CME creative developed several ideas centered on this hidden leverage point before settling on the old kid standbys of humor and animals. With an eye on playing up both the iconographic shapes of the cakes and the play-inducing filling, a running gag was developed in which animals mistake common objects for the cakes and don’t realize their error until it’s too late. Thus, a raccoon mistakes the yellow underside of a snowboard for a giant Twinkie falling from the sky. After getting squashed, the shaken animal pulls himself together with the puzzled complaint, ‘Where’s the cream filling?’

Almost four years after the campaign’s launch, CME execs say their research shows it to be a success. ‘Prior to any of the advertising, back in 1995, Little Debbie out-performed us on 13 of 14 attribute ratings,’ says Ridgway-Cross. ‘Today, we surpass them on all 14 attributes as rated by kids. On `fun to eat,’ we’re up by 40% and on `coolness,’ we’re far above Little Debbie.’ Ridgway-Cross adds that unaided brand awareness, which she says is the best indicator of brand selection, has increased by 10%, and that nine out of 10 kids in the U.S. are now aware of Hostess advertising.

However, sales figures from Information Resources Inc. show that Hostess still has a little ways to go before it can claim absolute supremacy. Little Debbie still sits at the top of rankings by dollar sales in the U.S. in the cupcakes and brownies category, with annual sales of US$167.8 million for the year ending January 3, 1999. However, Hostess Cupcakes are number two with US$79.1 million in sales, Twinkies are number five with US$41 million in sales, and HoHos and Ding Dongs have ranks eight and 10 respectively.

Interstate’s VP of marketing for Hostess, Stan Osman, says those numbers only include supermarket sales, and a significant portion of sales are through convenience stores. It is also notable that figures for 1998 over 1997 show sales for the Hostess brands on the rise, while sales for most of Little Debbie’s top brands are falling.

The two new spots use exactly the same formula as their five predecessors, with Opossum featuring an animatronic creature who mistakes the yellow air dam on an approaching tractor-trailer for a Twinkie, and Rhino featuring a CGI beastie who mistakes a covered tire mounted on the front of a safari Jeep for a Hostess Cupcake.

Ridgway-Cross says that when it came time to produce the spots, the team considered shaking things up and departing from the formula, but their research showed that the gags still worked. ‘This campaign breaks all of the rules,’ she says. ‘If we were to do a traditional wear-out analysis, these commercials would run about half a year.’ Both Sherling and Ridgway-Cross admit that they are at a loss to explain why the mistaken identity joke hasn’t worn out, but as long as their research shows it

hasn’t, they don’t want to change anything.

Osman agrees. ‘I think people are often too quick to change,’ he says. ‘As long as it keeps working, we’ll keep checking with research. And if we see that, whoops, things are changing, we’ll make a course correction. But right now, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of reason to make a change.’

To submit a campaign for this feature, please contact Duncan Hood at 416-408-2300 or

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