Boys of summer, Armour team up for hot dog pitch

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Eight elite ballplayers have teamed with ConAgra in a $9 million marketing pitch for its Armour Stars hot dogs.

The company recruited some of the nations's top baseball players for Armour's summer advertising, promotion and public relations effort, which starts in May. All-stars such as Barry Bonds, Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens will grace Armor's updated packaging, appear at promotional events and sing the "Hot Dogs. Armour Hot Dogs" jingle in radio ads.

An improved Armour hot dog, now with more meat, will hit store shelves next month. ConAgra hopes to upgrade the brand to premium status with the higher-quality ingredients and associations with top-notch baseball stars. Armour made a name for itself in the past, but as a lower-tier brand.

BETTER SUPPORT

"What we really needed to do was better support the equity and consumer awareness of the Armour name," said Steve Silk, president, ConAgra's refrigerated/prepared foods.

To do that, Mr. Silk teamed with Reed Bergman, president of Impact Sports Marketing, Atlanta. The two met last year during an event for another ConAgra brand -- Hebrew National. At the time, one of Mr. Bergman's clients -- the Seattle Mariners' Alex Rodriquez -- participated in the Hebrew National hot dog-selling challenge. Mr. Rodriquez now is also involved with the new Armour campaign.

"We started to talk, and what could be more synergistic than baseball and hot dogs?" said Mr. Bergman, whose company represents more than 100 major and minor league players.

After that meeting, Messrs. Silk and Bergman joined forces to create the integrated program to re-energize the Armour Stars brand. The duo also worked with ad agency Grey Advertising, New York, on the marketing effort.

"We didn't just want to use the players for puffery," Mr. Silk said, adding that goal was "to relaunch the brand and upgrade [Armour's] image."

PROMOTIONS, PR

The $6 million advertising campaign, as well as public relations and promotions, are key elements in Armour's marketing. Armour will host baseball clinics for kids, make pre-game "tailgate party" appearances and sponsor a sweepstakes.

The baseball tie-in targets not only men and boys, Mr. Silk said, but also the primary hot dog purchaser -- mom.

"Women are not strangers to baseball," he said, citing Major League Baseball research that showed over 48% of baseball fans are women, with 55% citing baseball as their favorite sport.

In addition to luring moms with the new effort, Armour also has wooed a slew of new distributors. Armour signed Publix Supermarkets, where the brand hasn't been for 10 years, as a distributor. And after an eight-year absence from retailer Jewel Food Stores, Armour will now be sold in those stores.

SALES SLIP

The new marketing campaign, and the expanded distribution come as Armour's sales slide. The brand's dollar sales were down 14.9% for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 30, according to Information Resources Inc. With $36.5 million in sales, it ranks No. 9 in terms of top-selling, refrigerated hot dog brands. As a whole, the $1.6 billion refrigerated hot dog category is up 2.5% in dollar sales.

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