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How Bazooka Candy Is Rebranding for a New Generation

Marketer Explains Strategy Behind Refreshing Push Pops, Other Brands

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After overhauling its flagship gum brand last year, Bazooka Candy Brands is putting its other kid-targeted sweets in the cross hairs -- including Ring Pop and Push Pop -- as it rebrands to remain relevant in the increasingly competitive candy business.

Bazooka, a division of The Topps Co., is making the packaging and marketing changes under the leadership of a new marketing team, including several executives who joined the company from food giant Kraft Foods.

"We all worked for big companies, Kraft being the most recent, and just really saw an opportunity with the trademarks that we have [at Bazooka]," said Scott Utke, Bazooka's marketing director for its non-gum bands, who joined the company a couple years ago after a seven-year stint at Kraft. "It's more of an entrepreneurial experience. And that's what we were all looking for. We all had the same mind-set to come to a smaller company and all just made the jump, one after another."

The company made headlines last year when it revamped the 66-year-old Bazooka Joe gum brand, replacing the gum's miniature comic strips with quizzes and brainteasers that direct kids to digital content.

Next up is Push Pop, which this week launched a new TV ad campaign billed as a more "tech-y" approach that blends computer-generated imagery with live action. The ad, from the brand's agency, Uproar, New York, is airing on kid-targeted outlets such as the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. Meanwhile, the marketer is putting its candy in new formats, such as Ring Pop Gummies, which will hit stores later this year. (Like the lollipop version, the gummies are wearable.)

We recently caught up with Mr. Utke to find out what's behind the new strategy. Here is a lightly edited transcript.

Ad Age: Explain the changes.

Mr. Utke: What we are trying to do is define what kids love about each of our brands at a more emotional level than just a product benefit, which is kind of what we've been doing in the past. The new [Push Pop] spot is really trying to get to this insight of 'uncap adventure.' So the new spot ... not only speaks to what kids aspire to do but also highlights the unique benefits of our product ... which is really the durability of the product and the fact that it can keep up with your fast-paced and active lifestyle and also the fact that it can be capped and saved for later.

Ad Age: How are you innovating?

Mr. Utke: We're actually expanding beyond lollipops. ... We are trying to broaden the frame of reference of these brands and think of what they stand for in terms of an emotional standpoint. ... So Ring Pop, for example, is about putting kids in the spotlight. And while the lollipop has done that for years and years, gummies can also provide another way to put kids in the spotlight. We are trying to look at these brands from an umbrella, more holistic standpoint [and] innovate against that.

Ad Age: Is this a response to the fact that consumers are craving more variety?

Mr. Utke: When you look at where we played in the past, we've only focused on lollipops. ... Really, there's just a huge opportunity to take these brands and extend them into adjacent categories, which is what we've done.

Ad Age: Are you worried about new kids marketing restrictions covering sugary foods, such as Disney's move to restricting advertisements during its TV and radio shows?

Mr. Utke: Obviously any time there's restrictions to advertising, that's something that concerns us. But there [are] a fair number of networks out there, so we still feel confident we will reach a fair number of kids.

Ad Age: What has been the reaction to taking the comics out of Bazooka gum?

Mr. Utke: With Bazooka, I think the comics were the amusing diversion of [a consumer's] day. ... I think what [Bazooka Candy Brands Marketing-VP Anthony Trani] and the team tried to do is figure out how do you reinvent that experience for a new generation. ... The gum is still going to be wrapped, but instead of comics there's a number of different, fun little games you can play and there's also an online experience to continue that. (The brand is expected to debut a new campaign for the gum later this year.)

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