Meet the Experientialists: Chobani's Ted Sabarese Proves Yogurt Doesn't Have to Be Boring

Brand Has Gotten a Lot More Daring Under His Belt

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Ted Sabarese
Ted Sabarese

This is the third in a series of profiles on notable players in the world of experiential marketing. Read about Vitro's Marc Wilson and Converse VP-General Manager, Brand and Segments Geoff Cottrill, and tune in tomorrow for insight from Adam Joseph, co-founder of experiential and multiplatform production studio Legs.

Ted Sabarese took a circuitous path to yogurt. Earlier in his career, he served as an advertising creative at McCann Erickson, followed by years as a photographer shooting campaigns for marketers such as Royal Caribbean, Hasbro, Microsoft, Verizon. It was then that he realized the impact of a personalized approach to building an audience.

To promote his photography business, he launched a blog, "Guess the Lighting," which gained popularity among his peers and illustrated his take on how famous ad and editorial images were lit. "That's when I realized the potential of doing things differently," said Mr. Sabarese, 45. After getting an in through a friend working at Chobani a year ago, he carved out a new career trying to do for the yogurt what he did for his own brand.

Under his watch, Chobani has gotten a lot more daring. It set a gargantuan animatronic bear loose on the streets of New York following the brand's appearance at the Super Bowl. The burly star appeared in an online video toppling Manhattan's ubiquitous food carts -- because for him, hot dogs, churros and pretzels don't cut it. Like the bear in the Big Game spot, created by Droga5 New York, this grizzly preferred foods with only natural ingredients, like Chobani.

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For the Winter Olympics, Chobani set out to give a select group of everyday athletes what Mr. Sabarese called "the workout of their lives" and enlisted them to exhaust their yogurt-fueled quads to power a spectacular light projection celebrating this year's Olympians. Both efforts aimed to bring the brand, and the message of its above-the-line campaign, a little closer to consumers.

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Mr. Sabarese reports to Director of Shopper and Experiential Marketing Mike Messersmith and said experiential marketing has taken a big seat at Chobani for a number of reasons. "It's the one-two punch that helps link the online and offline world," he said. "We're firm believers in actual physical and emotional experiences. The goal is to get consumers to become unprompted evangelists of our brand."

Mr. Sabarese said Chobani is just getting started with its experiential exploits, yet such efforts decidedly don't -- and won't -- command the larger budgets of a traditional campaign. "From a financial perspective, if we can do a great experience that touches consumers, we can achieve comparable results to other types of advertising at a fraction of the cost," he said. "If you can create an experience that people are dying to be part of or dying to see, you're going to get a big bang for your buck."

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