"Oscar" Campaign for Frito's TrueNorth Snacks Taps "Yes We Can" Inspiration

During the Academy Awards broadcast February 22, hold the popcorn and pass the nuts. Viewers, especially women, will be asked to be inspired by nuts. Yes, nuts.

Frito-Lay, which launched the True North line of nut-based snacks last year to appeal to baby boomers, is the exclusive snack sponsor of the broadcast, commonly known among media buyers and advertisers as “The Super Bowl for Women.” Four ads, each profiling a real person doing something for their community, will run during the broadcast usually filled up with imagery of Hollywood glamour and glitz.

Ads that ran in the second half of last year launching TrueNorth focused on taste and ingredients, and were meant to spark awareness of the new brand and help push the product into store shelves. But the Oscar ads are meant to be the brand’s real coming out as a brand Frito-Lay is pinning high hopes on to make up for plateauing sales for chips.

The TrueNorth line of products consist of three flavors of nut-clusters, three flavors of crisps that are made from nuts as well as mixed whole nuts.

Baby Boomers, say new product analysts and researchers, change their snack habits dramatically after age 35, away from chips and pretzels, and more toward nuts and snacks that seem healthier even if they aren’t markedly so. “Everybody snacks, but the older you get the more you want to be able to justify the snack as healthier,” says independent marketing consultant Dennis Keene. “For an adult, especially a parent, it doesn’t seem right to be eating the same chips and dips as your teenage children.”

Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo, has the leading market share in the chip category. But the company has long seen a hole in their business with today’s baby-boomers, aged 44 to 63, especially women. Those customers have increasingly been gravitating to nuts, natural snack brands like Kellogg’s Kashi, and “natural” positioned chip brands like Terra. “Despite the fact that Lays products have a very good healthy ingredient profile, boomers in particular were not associating our products with health and wellness,” says Frito-Lay spokesperson Aurora Gonzalez.

So, the chip giant is going after grown-ups by trying to build some positive earthy buzz around the products during what is typically the biggest TV audience for women.

One ad that breaks Sunday night profiles the founder of Penny Harvest, a program that organizes kids to gather pennies and then share the money with kids who are in need. The program has raised over $7 million so far. A second TV ad profiles the founder of Sustainable South Bronx, a program that is “greening” the blighted area of New York City with trees, gardens and parks. A third ad profiles a man who has been erecting extraordinary metal roadside sculptures in his hometown of Regent North Dakota as a means to bring tourist traffic to the economically depressed town.

The fourth ad ties in more directly with the Academy Awards, flagged to viewers as directed by Oscar winning actress Helen Hunt. The ad, “Inspiration Café,” profiles Lisa Nigro, the founder of a restaurant that serves the homeless and provides job training and fellowship to its customers. “After reading thousands of inspiring stories, our team felt that Lisa Nigro’s story exemplifies the purpose of TrueNorth—giving life extraordinary meaning,” says Regan Ebert, vice president and general manager and the executive in charge of launching the new brand.

The ad campaign breaking during the Oscars, which costs Frito-Lay about $1.4 million per ad, carries a risk that such high-mindedness around eating a nutty snack could come off as overly earnest. “Not at all…True North is a special brand about passions, and people have become very passionate about the food they eat and their health,” says Kevin McKeon, partner and executive creative director at StrawberryFrog, the New York ad agency that created the campaign.

Other brands, such as Volvo, have also tried to associate themselves with profiles of people doing inspiring things and making contributions to the community. But it could be that the TrueNorth messages will resonate better amidst a deep economic Recession. “It’s all in the execution with ads of this genre, but associating a brand with positive, hopeful, uplifting stories when so much of the news is awful might well be a better idea than trying to make people laugh for a few seconds,” says consultant Dennis Keene. "the whole mood and execution of the ad, too, looks, like it could have tied into Barack Obama's campaign message, and given his approval ratings that's not a bad thing eiether," says Keene.

Since 2002, salty snack sales have grown almost 42 percent to $15.9 billion last year, according to data from London-based market research company Mintel International Group Ltd. Of that, healthy snacks are about $6 billion and the fastest growing segment. Those kinds of numbers drove Kraft, for example, to introduce more than 20 new snack products last year, many of which are categorized as contributing to health and wellness.

Viewer ratings for the Oscars have been declining in recent years. And the current median age of the audience shows younger viewers are less interested in these types of shows. The Oscars has a median audience age 49.5, which has driven several categories of advertisers away. But it turns out to be just right for a new brand aimed square at baby boomers.

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