Bryan Reese is making carrots compete against a formidable foe: junk food.
The chief marketing and innovation officer of Bakersfield, Calif.-based Bolthouse Farms, Mr. Reese is leading the charge to market the produce just like potato chips, hoping that the new approach -- backed by an estimated $25,000,000 ad campaign -- will spur carrot sales, which have flat-lined.
Forty-nine carrot producers have joined the effort in an alliance branded "A Bunch of Carrot Farmers." The campaign, by Crispin Porter & Bogusky, is being test marketed in Cincinnati and Syracuse, N.Y. and includes TV ads, billboards and packaging. A microsite promotes special Halloween "Scarrots" and an iPhone app called Xtreme Xruch Kart, a carrot crunch-powered video game.
One spot is a science-fiction fantasy featuring an attractive woman who crunches a carrot as her eyes glow orange. Flashy packaging includes the tagline, "eat 'em like junk food." In a national rollout, "Scarrots" packages include glow-in-the dark temporary tattoos. In short, these are not your grandmother's carrots.
The carrots are sold in the produce section but also in store delis, next to juices, near checkout stands and "everyplace where consumers are typically gong to grab something to snack on or junk food," Reese said.
For Mr. Reese, it's perhaps his boldest step in a more than 20-year marketing career that includes time at E.&J. Gallo Winery. He said it's too early to say if the campaign is working, but plans are in the works to possibly expand it over the next year.
Mr. Reese, 41, a graduate of West Point and father of three, served two stints in Somalia with the Army Corps of Engineers. In a recent interview, he discussed his marketing approach.
Ad Age: Do you think you can really fool kids into thinking carrots are junk food?
Mr. Reese: Over the last several years the [carrot] category has been flat. So we asked ourselves what is holding us back. And our sense is that this rational approach for communicating the health benefits of carrots clearly isn't working and what we were missing is an emotional connection.
With that in mind we developed this idea of who's doing it right. You don't have to look very far in the junk-food world to find people who have found ways to get people to consume their products even though they're not healthy and they're not good for you and in many cases not even all that affordable. So our strategy was to take pages out of their marketing book when it comes to especially very technical things like bright packaging and exciting promotions and finding interesting ways to deliver our product to them.
Ad Age: You used to be a marketer for E.&J. Gallo Winery. Compare selling wine and carrot juice.
Mr. Reese: You end up in categories where there are a whole lot of players. There are a whole lot of companies that are in the game and a whole lot of brands and products competing for consumer dollars so the need to communicate points of difference and create more emotional connections with consumers is more prevalent versus categories without a lot of brands, like you could argue the produce industry.
Ad Age: So you don't see yourselves as a produce company?
Mr. Reese: We see ourselves as more of a snack-food company. That's relatively new. That has come with our shift in how we want to think about the carrot category.
Ad Age: Do you think the snack-food companies should watch their backs?
Mr. Reese: I'm sure they are not necessarily quaking in their boots, [but] we see them as a competitor, certainly.
Ad Age: Your "Bom Dia" Acai berry juice products make several nutritional claims, such as fighting "free radicals." Other marketers have been warned by the Federal Trade Commission for claiming the juice helps people lose weight and fight cancer. Where do you draw the line?
Mr. Reese: We draw the line on number one, what has proven scientific evidence, and number two, what the FDA and the FTC say are approved ways to talk about the potential health benefits of our product. Acai has measurable, significant antioxidant properties and that's what we focus on.
Ad Age: Any lessons from your time in the military that apply to marketing?
Mr. Reese: It's the ability to not only be able to develop appropriate strategies but to translate them into detailed actions that are going to be required to achieve those is something that I learned in the military.
Ad Age: Have you ever been on a tractor?
Mr. Reese: When I'm on a tractor I'm sort of taking a ride, I'm getting an appreciation for what the agriculture side of our business does every day, which is just amazing, and I love to be a part of it. But my role is more on the demand-creation side. My role is to make sure they have a lot that they need to harvest.