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Chobani CMO: Earned Media Is as Important as TV or Events

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Chobani is refreshing its brand marketing this week, a move it says just happens to coincide with major press exposure.

A campaign debuting Monday comes a day after Chobani and its founder, Hamdi Ulukaya, were featured on "60 Minutes." It also comes after the release of a lengthy April cover story in Fast Company profiling Mr. Ulukaya, which both Chobani and the founder himself shared on social media.

Of course, the "60 Minutes" and Fast Company pieces are not advertising, and Chobani did not pay for them. Still, the Greek yogurt marketer's communications team likely did plenty of outreach to try to convince journalists to work on those pieces and dozens of stories out there on decisions to offer profit-sharing and paid parental leave, the fact that it employs hundreds of refugees, or how it recently began mentoring some startups through its Chobani Food Incubator.

"A big part of how we're getting our message out and our narrative out," said Chief Marketing and Brand Officer Peter McGuinness, "is earned."

The new "Believe in Food" brand campaign is Chobani's first major brand-focused work from Wieden & Kennedy Portland, which it hired last year.

Adding to the brand conversation, Chobani is running paid content with Time and Thrillist that it called "editorial collaborations" about the company and its people. Chobani is also adding content to its website, including stories showcasing some of its employees talking about what food means to them or what it means to work for Chobani.

"A beautiful earned story is as important as a TV ad is, as important as a community event. They're all storytelling, and we have a great story to tell, and they're all authentic in their own way," Mr. McGuinness said.

The multi-pronged approach comes after Chobani surpassed General Mills' Yoplait to take the top brand spot in U.S. yogurt. Dannon, with a variety of brands, is still the largest U.S. yogurt maker overall. Clearly, Chobani is eager to keep its momentum and positive buzz going.

Chobani, which as a private company doesn't have to disclose its detailed financials like public competitors General Mills and Danone's Dannon, points to gains such as double-digit revenue growth in 2016 and so far this year. It also says that it doubled its capital and marketing investment last year.

Chobani also highlights its on-the-ground outreach, with plans to participate in at least 50 community events near its factories in New York and Idaho. It touts how communities near its plants, not just the plants themselves, have added thousands of jobs. For those further from its massive plants, there will be "ChoMobile" product giveaways and sampling at thousands of stores nationwide. It's a major change from four years ago when a mold-related recall was one big way people heard the word Chobani in the news.

Back to those new ads, which Mr. McGuinness stressed were not a new direction for the brand. "We're shining a spotlight on what this company has always been about, which is food can bring us together," he said.

The new work was directed by Michel Gondry, known for films including "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "Be Kind Rewind," who also just did work for FedEx. The Chobani spots feature instruments made in part with fruits, with Chobani employees singing "What the World Needs Now Is Love."

The "Believe in Food" work follows W&K's product-focused spots for Chobani's Drink and Flip that were released in February.

And while the newest ads are brand spots, not product ones, any brand's ultimate message -- increased sales -- is there: quick shots of yogurt cups.