Ritz: Buttery Crackers Can Make You 'Rich'

New Campaign Revives Original Depression-Era Simple Pleasure Positioning

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For Ritz's first new campaign in eight years, the brand team sought inspiration from an unlikely source: The Great Depression. The new tagline, "Life's Rich," is a nod to the cracker's original Depression-era positioning as a simple pleasure during dark economic times.

"We took inspiration from where we began, which was during the Great Depression in 1934. And that was when butter crackers could only be afforded by a few," said Linda Lee, senior director of the North American cracker category at Mondelez International, the current owner of Ritz. "But Ritz really allowed the masses, allowed everyone, to have a taste of a buttery rich cracker," she added.

While economic times are of course much better now, they aren't exactly stellar. And Ritz is seizing on the notion that more people value experiences over possessions. "We've moved from an era of materialism and financial gain to an era that is about relationship, connection, just moments," Ms. Lee said.

Those are fairly heady observations for a cracker brand. But Ritz is seeking to hammer home the theme in its ads. One print ad states: "Not country club rich, book club rich." A TV ad (above) includes a scene of a man competing in a mud running race as a voice-over states "May you be rich … filthy rich." Ritz also wants to evoke another double meaning -- that the buttery crackers taste rich. The campaign is by The Martin Agency.

Ms. Lee said spending behind Ritz would increase "significantly." In 2014, Mondelez backed Ritz with $17.3 million in measured media, according to Kantar Media.

Other brands are also seizing on the simple pleasures approach. Miller High Life, for instance, broke a campaign last year by Leo Burnett using the ironic "I Am Rich" tagline.

Ritz's previous campaign was launched in 2007 under Havas. It sought to grow sales beyond Ritz's sweet spot, holiday eating, into more general snacking occasions. The effort, called "Open for Fun," used a combination of live-action and animated ads, including recent spots that used a sports theme.

Sales for Ritz have been growing, according to Mondelez. For 2014 Ritz posted $750 million in U.S. sales, which was up 3% in dollar terms, Ms. Lee said, citing Nielsen figures. Year-to-date the brand has generated sales of $190 million, up 1.4% in dollar terms, she said.

Figures provided to Ad Age by IRI show the leading Ritz variety largely flat at $514 million for the 52 weeks ending March 22. But Ritz's "Fresh Stacks" -- which come in individually wrapped on-the-go packs -- increased sales 44% during the period to nearly $110 million, according to IRI. The total cracker category, valued at $7.3 billion, eked out 0.13% growth.

So with sales still pretty good, why is Ritz changing its ads? The brand team wanted to "write the next chapter" for Ritz "with a fresh new voice," Ms. Lee said. Even if that means turning the pages back to the brand's original Depression positioning.

Vintage Ritz ad
Vintage Ritz ad Credit: Ritz

According to the book "American Food by the Decades," Ritz was named for the luxury hotel brand Ritz-Carlton. The brand attempted to "cheer the public psyche with its crunchy, buttery cracker," according to the book. "Unlike the real Ritz-Carlton, a luxury out of reach for most people during the 1930s, Ritz crackers were affordable at 19 cents a box." Within three years, Ritz became the top-selling cracker in the world, according to the book.

The brand even created "a mock apple pie recipe that became popular in the 1930s when apples were traditionally too expensive for the average household to always enjoy them," according to Mondelez. The recipe calls for sugar, butter, cinnamon, cream of tartar -- and 36 Ritz crackers.

No wonder sales spiked.

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