CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- The battle is on for Thanksgiving supremacy. Food Network, Epicurious and Butterball are all working to establish themselves as the destination for all things turkey.
Thanksgiving is all about food, and therefore is a time of year when consumers cook more than any other. So it's not only important to keep loyal consumers from looking elsewhere, but it's the best time to lure casual cooks into your brand experience.
FoodNetwork.com has been out in front this year, pushing a new dedicated microsite with a plethora of recipes, leftover ideas and full menus created by network talent. The site, which has been growing steadily along with the cable channel it mirrors, works on the Thanksgiving push for about half the year. "It is a key time for us, especially as we are the No. 1 food and cooking site throughout the year, we don't want to lose that at Thanksgiving," said, Angela Moore, VP, site director at FoodNetwork.com. "So we definitely focus a great deal of inventory and promotion to retain our No. 1 position." In addition to constant tie-ins on the cable channel, FoodNetwork also focuses firepower on SEO, monitoring the most-popular searches.
Thanksgiving advice has been Butterball's bailiwick, and chief marketing initiative, for many years. It's been 10 years since Martin Sheen, as President Josiah Bartlet, called the Butterball hotline during a Thanksgiving "West Wing" episode. But much has changed. While the company still fields about 100,000 phone calls each November, it's reaching more consumers through "turkey texts," a website that offers a host of recipes and advice from bloggers. This year, Butterball is stepping out into Facebook and Twitter. The efforts are fledgling, with 1,500 fans and 250 followers, but both groups will only grow.
Kari Lindell, director-retail marketing at Butterball, said the company is aware that sites such as FoodNetwork and Epicurious have loyal Gen X and Y followings, but the food marketer has an obligation to everyone from teenage cooks in the kitchen all the way through 85- to 100-year-olds, "or until they're ready to retire their apron."
"Those sites are wonderful in demonstrating that people are very interested in cooking," she said, adding that "because Butterball has been around for 55 years we have a very loyal following, but we've transformed our message to be very relevant to the new cooks as well." For example, Butterball has added turkey recipes for deep fryer, microwave and even toaster oven. And being Butterball still has its perks. Organic interest, along with PR support from Edelman, generates more than 1 billion impressions around the Thanksgiving holiday.
Josh Stinchcomb, publisher of Epicurious.com, said his site doesn't need to bang pots and pans to get eyeballs during the holiday, when traffic soars 50%. This year, Epicurious has the added advantage of an iPhone app with nearly 1 million downloads that's also expected to make the site stickier. For that reason, he focuses his marketing dollars on the rest of the year.
And Thanksgiving is a great chance to get converts, said Dana McGovern, Epicurious category director-food and beverage. "Holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas that pull in users for a very specific reason, you're hoping you can convert them, because of a good experience, to be regular users," she said. "It's a great opportunity for us to put our best foot forward.