Omaha Steaks Goes for Tears in Father's Day Campaign

Spots Directed by Errol Morris Are Part of the Company's Largest Campaign Ever

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Does dad want a tie for Father's Day, or a T-bone?

Omaha Steaks says most fathers want to bring on the beef but find themselves stuck with clothes instead. So the marketer is hoping to spur a Father's Day-driven steak-buying spree with a new campaign that makes an unusually emotional appeal for a company that usually uses a basic direct response approach.

The campaign, which breaks on TV Monday, will be backed with the largest dollar investment for a single campaign in the company's nearly 100-year history. It's three times larger than anything Omaha Steaks had previously done, according to Omaha Steaks senior VP Todd Simon. In 2014, the company spent $19.8 million on measured media, according to Kantar Media.

Two TV spots will air nationally on networks including ABC Family, A&E, Food Network, HGTV, OWN and WE. The agency on the campaign is BarrettSF, and the ads were directed by well-known documentarian Errol Morris.

In the TV ads (above and below), Mr. Morris interviews fathers and their children, eliciting laughs and hugs. Similar videos will also run online, with a total of about 20 pieces of content running during the four-week campaign. Print ads are also planned.

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The Omaha Steaks branding is minimal, confined to the very end of the TV spots in which a voice-over encourages viewers to buy their dad a steak. The understated and emotional tone marks a departure from the company's typical steak-filled direct-response ads.

Executives decided to change tactics after conducting research revealing that while 22% of dad's get clothing for Father's Day, 85% say they would rather get a steak. Presently, only 9% of dads say they get steaks for the holiday, according to the company's findings.

"Dad's don't want more stuff. What they really want is to spend time with their kids," said Mr. Simon, whose great-great grandfather founded Omaha Steaks in 1917. So the marketer is seeking to inject its steaks into social occasions like family meal rituals, "whether that meal be prepared by your family for dad, or whether dad gets the pleasure of preparing those steaks for his family," Mr. Simon said.

The marketer also sees opportunity in the fact that 57% of people grill at home for Father's Day, according to its research. "We feel like we have a lot of data behind our hunch," Mr. Simon said.

There might be another explanation for steak-free, emotional ads: Because the campaign targets gift-givers -- not beef-loving fathers -- there is a chance that the person ordering the steak might not eat steak. They might even be a vegetarian. "If the result of these ads is that people who don't even eat meat end up buying steaks then we have hit the Holy Grail," Mr. Simon said.

Omaha Steaks recorded roughly $450 million in sales last year. About 95% of sales comes via direct-to-consumer shipments.

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