HEINZ'S KELLER PUTS KETCHUP AT TOP OF THE BRANDING MENU: WITH BURNETT IN PLACE AS NEW AGENCY, P&G VET LOOKS TO BUILD PRODUCT INTO ICON

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Casey keller was thrust into the maelstrom of an agency review the moment he joined H.J. Heinz Co. in mid-September. It wasn't just any review, either, but a $50 million global review for the company's flagship brand, Heinz ketchup.

"The review hastened my starting" as the new VP-meal enhancement at Heinz USA Retail, which includes condiments, sauces and soups for the $9 billion-plus company, Mr. Keller said.

On Oct. 16, Heinz awarded the ketchup business to Leo Burnett Co., Chicago, after a review that initially included Bates Worldwide, DDB Needham Worldwide and Euro RSCG Worldwide. But after those three were cut, it boiled down to a contest between Burnett and TBWA Worldwide.

TOUGH DECISION

"It was a difficult decision," said Mr. Keller, 37, one of a handful of executives presiding over the review, headed by President-CEO William Johnson. But in the end, he said, Burnett's ability to give Heinz ketchup "a personality" and create an emotional connection with the consumer won the day.

The decision to so quickly involve Mr. Keller in the decision about the global advertising was a natural one. He came to Heinz with a distinctly international pedigree, joining from Procter & Gamble Co., where he was marketing director-U.S. snacks and global development. During his years on Pringles, the brand went from a relatively small U.S. business to an enviable international brand marketed in 40 countries -- "using fundamentals that worked around the world," Mr. Keller noted.

"Ketchup has the same huge opportunity," he added.

Ketchup, including foodservice, is a $2 billion business for Heinz, and the company is hoping to grow from there.

"It's a universal condiment," said Mr. Keller. "We want to drive the icon; if it's not Heinz, it's not ketchup."

While the marketing philosophy for Heinz's ketchup and P&G's Pringles is the same, there's one huge difference between employers.

"This is a company 100% dedicated to foods," he said of Heinz. At P&G, food is but one element of a sprawling empire.

Although Burnett is a major P&G agency, Mr. Keller had not worked with the shop before.

SERIOUS ABOUT BRAND-BUILDING

By holding the review -- and hiring Mr. Keller -- Heinz also is trying to send a message that it's dedicated to brand-building. In the early 1990s, Heinz pulled the plug on media advertising in the U.S., causing Burnett to resign the business domestically because of the lack of billings.

That was in 1994; about two years ago, Heinz said it was returning to advertising domestically, appointing DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago, to create a splashy campaign for ketchup. The result was a single commercial that broke on the 1998 Super Bowl pregame show, but it ran only sporadically thereafter.

Despite its promises, Heinz spent only $3 million on ketchup in measured media last year.

That is changing, said Mr. Keller. "This is a pivotal time" for Heinz, he said. "They are trying to get back into marketing, and I want to be a key part of that. They are serious; that's the reason I'm here."

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