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Kraft Pitches Newest Gum With Wig-Wearing Bald Eagles and Half-Naked Martial Arts

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Ever since Bazooka wrapped its gum in comics in 1953, gum brands have been as much about the gimmick as the chew. And that might be truer today than ever before, as gum makers search for flashy objects to lure fickle teens, whose passing fancies are enough to burst the bubble of even the smartest of marketers.

The latest company to give it a shot is Kraft Foods, which next week will launch an ambitious campaign to support its newest teen-targeted gum. Called "ID Gum by Stride," the product started hitting shelves in the U.S. a few weeks ago. "We think it could be one of the biggest launches in our history," Jim Cali, Kraft's senior VP and global category leader for gum and candy, told analysts. "It's about teen entertainment and not just a simple piece of gum."

The gum comes in folding packs with magnetic closures and features 18 versions of original hand-drawn art by young, emerging artists from around the world. Each piece in a pack features a different swirl design on the surface of the gum, which comes in peppermint, spearmint and berry melon flavors. The pack design was crafted by Landor.

The campaign by Droga5, which launches Sept. 17, includes a TV spot depicting a quirky character who lives in the mountains and likes to dress bald eagles in wigs. "If ID Gum can taste kinda like peppermint and kinda like a hint of something else, then I can kinda like bald eagles and kinda like bald eagles with hair," he says. The tagline is "Kinda more than gum. Kinda amazing."

"Kinda" hits on the notion that "teens are kind of into one thing and kind of into something else," Stephanie Wilkes, Kraft's U.S. vice president of marketing for confectionary, told Ad Age. "And through our advertising and our marketing of the gum, we are going to embrace and quite frankly celebrate that diversity and discovery of teens."

The pricey campaign comes as Kraft prepares to split off its gum, candy and snack business into a new company, Mondelez International, which launches Oct. 1. While the marketer's snack brands such as Oreo have thrived of late, gum products have not, especially in developed markets such as the U.S. and Europe. Dollar sales of the core Stride brand in the U.S. fell 23%, to $116 million, in the 52 weeks ending Aug. 12. So Stride sales lost 1.34 percentage points to claim 5.28% of the sugarless gum category, excluding Walmart sales, according to SymphonyIRI. Sales of Trident, Kraft's top gum brand and the No. 2 sugarless gum brand overall, ticked up only slightly by 0.87%, to $295 million; Trident gained on No. 1 brand Wrigley's Orbit, whose sales slid 7.3%, to $329 million. (Trident's sales totals are for the core brand only and don't include line extensions such as Trident Layers and Trident Vitality, which SymphonyIRI tracks separately.)

Mr. Cali blamed the results on headwinds in the economy, telling analysts that "unemployment and GDP softness resulted in lower purchasing power for gum consumers." He described the teens and young adults as "most critical to the success in gum because they're the heaviest users."

Teenagers also seem to be mercurial customers, so the campaign for ID will unleash a host of visual elements to keep their attention.

The digital effort, also led by Droga5, includes what Kraft calls an ArtCade, an interactive gallery and video arcade featuring 18 games for Facebook, tablets and smartphones. The games include Snowhoarding, which is billed as "kinda thrashing" and "kinda stashing," as players collect sneakers, shopping bags and other junk while snowboarding.

Also available is Censored Sensei, described as "kinda martial arts" and "kinda private parts," as players "must counter the sensei's attacks with his/her fan to make sure the sensei doesn't expose himself" and Electrocutesy ("kinda shock, kinda awwww"), in which players shock cute stuffed animals.

While slightly edgy for a teen-targeted brand, the games are "on the right side of risque," said Neil Heymann, a group creative director at Droga5. "It's all very tastefully done but the name of the game and the idea behind it is intended to draw people in."

In other words, selling gum to teens takes more than tasty sticks; it takes a good shtick. For ID "there is always new news," Mr. Heymann said. "There's always a different pack design to collect" or "free entertainment" online. In sum, the marketing is about "catering to that short attention span and hunger for more content," he said.

Kraft also plans to take the brand on the road with a tour featuring a truck that is "kinda a camper and kinda a canvas" that will include a surface for artists to paint on and also feature live enactments of the ArtCade games. The tour will be run by Fuse, a youth-marketing agency.

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