ConAgra's Linne: Keeping Iconic Brands From Languishing

Senior VP-Advertising Has a Stable of Cupboard Staples That He Wants to Be More Top of Mind

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Dave Linne said that in taking over as senior VP-advertising at ConAgra, essentially half of his job is already done. The company already has established its stable of iconic brands -- but it has also let them languish. His job will be to make them more top of mind, with advertising that reinvigorates the likes of Pam cooking spray, Reddi-Wip, Egg Beaters, Chef Boyardee, Hunt's tomato products and Orville Redenbacher.
Dave Linne
Dave Linne Credit: David Radler

The task, as he sees it, is to make ConAgra's advertising more engaging and memorable. Mr. Linne, 47, admits his company has lately fallen short in that regard. But he has an enviable budget with which to get started: In terms of measured media, ConAgra's spending was up sharply in 2007, to $199 million from $149 million in 2006, according to TNS Media Intelligence. ConAgra's agencies are Nitro, New York; Omnicom Group's DDB, San Francisco; Venables Bell & Partners, San Francisco; Omnicom's Element 79, Chicago; and Wondergroup, Cincinnati.

Mr. Linne is no stranger to big food brands. He comes to ConAgra from Leo Burnett USA, where he was executive creative director on the shop's Kellogg business. He also worked on the McDonald's and Hallmark accounts and on campaigns for well-known brands such as Nintendo, Walt Disney and Morgan Stanley. He talked to Advertising Age about his plans for ConAgra.

Ad Age: What interested you about this job?

Mr. Linne: I think, ultimately, what was intriguing for me was, if I was on client side, could I impact work more than a creative director on the ad agency side?

Ad Age: So we can check back with you in six months?

Mr. Linne: Please do.

Ad Age: What attracted you to ConAgra in particular?

Mr. Linne: It's a huge company with great brands. They really have a great portfolio of stuff that we have in our cabinets, but you can't really point to any work that they've done recently. I think that a lot of the brands have latent equities. They're underachievers right now. You would think that with a little bit of help, it could push them over the [top].

Ad Age: Which ConAgra brands do you see as really "iconic"?

Mr. Linne: Healthy Choice is too new, but Pam cooking spray, Reddi-Wip whipped cream, Egg Beaters, Chef Boyardee, Hunt's Tomato sauce, Slim Jim, Orville Redenbacker. To me those are all definitely leaders in their categories. I'm sure some are No. 2, but those are brands that you know and have used for years. I think my job, and the folks who work with me here, is to pick them up from the advertising standpoint and remind people why they love them.

Ad Age: How do you accomplish that?

Mr. Linne: I think we need to up the quality of the work and make it more engaging, more entertaining and more memorable.

Ad Age: What does that entail?

Mr. Linne: I just think a lot of our work is right now is invisible. It's not just saying the right things. I think it could be saying it in a more compelling way that the consumer would listen to. Ultimately, brands are like people. You want to like them.

Ad Age: What do you like about the current ConAgra advertising?

Mr. Linne: I think some of the Slim Jim work is good. I think some of the Orville work is good. Purely from a creative standpoint, I think a lot of the other ones are going to need some help.

Ad Age: Is that going to take more marketing dollars?

Mr. Linne: I don't know that yet. There may be some brands where that happens. There may be some that we shift around how they're using our ad dollars. Hopefully, whatever we do will be more memorable work, more breakthrough work, stuff that connects with people.

Ad Age: Is that going to mean account reviews?

Mr. Linne: I don't know yet. We're going out to meet the agencies. I know some of the people, anyway. We'll just kind of take that on project-by-project basis.
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