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Kraft Launches Comeback Plan for Jell-O

Marketer Conducted Months of Testing to Settle on Positioning

By Published on . 3

For Kraft Foods Group, J-E-L-L-O has spelled disappointment of late. The brand -- once known for fun advertising starring the likes of Jack Benny and Bill Cosby -- has struggled to find its identity in recent years, while marketing reductions have been met with sales declines.

Kraft hopes to reverse the slide starting Monday with a new campaign the marketer says will return the brand's focus to families and fun, ending the recent adult-targeted approach.

The goal is to reestablish Jell-O's "core purpose" of "food for fun," said Dan O'Leary, Kraft's senior director of marketing for desserts. Marketing spending on Jell-O will double as part of the new effort, which includes TV, print and digital, he said.

Rick Shea, a former Kraft exec and president of Shea Marketing, said Jell-O is an "iconic brand that has lost relevancy with the consumer due to changing purchase and eating habits. Dessert consumption is down and they have not really made the transition to snack."

The new push is part of Kraft's larger strategy of reinvesting in its stable of classic food and beverage brands that executives feel were neglected when they were part of the larger Kraft Foods Inc., which split in two last October, forming Kraft Foods Group and the candy and snack-focused Mondelez International.

Kraft has already launched new campaigns for classics like Planters, Velveeta and Kool-Aid in recent months, but Jell-O has been slower out of the gate, as the company took months studying how to position the brand. "I should have had [new Jell-O marketing] a year ago, but it takes time to develop great advertising," Kraft CEO Tony Vernon said on a recent earnings call.

Sales suffered as measured media spending fell by more than half to $15 million last year, according to Kantar Media. In the year ending July 14, Kraft's gelatin dessert mix sales fell 0.45% to $154 million, while refrigerated pudding, mousse and gelatin sales dropped 19% to $337 million, according to IRI.

The new campaign, which is by CP&B, carries the tagline "Fun Things Up" and will showcase gelatin and pudding. The first TV ad features a dad and his son and depicts the boy going through adult struggles like losing his hair and enduring a tough day at work. The "chocolatey taste of Jell-O pudding makes up for all of that," the dad tells his boy over a couple of pudding snack cups.

The campaign is a contrast to the approach Jell-O took throughout the first decade of the 2000s, which Mr. O'Leary said spotlighted the brand's sugar free offerings as Jell-O sought to capitalize on the Atkins diet craze. Ads characterized Jell-O snack cups as giving that "wiggle room" every diet needs.

"It was very successful while the diet trend continued," Mr. O'Leary said. But "now that diet trends have changed a little bit, that adult strategy was not working as well as we wanted it to." The new campaign positions Jell-O as a wholesome product that tastes good and is fun, he said.

But Kraft still must contend with changing eating habits: The percentage of dinners that include dessert has fallen to 13.8%, the lowest number in 25 years, according to NPD Group, which analyst Harry Balzer attributed to the growing desire for convenience. Put simply, cakes, pies and Jell-O molds take a while to make. "We like sweets … but we are not looking to make our lives harder," Mr. Balzer said.

That's a challenge for Jell-O because the brand's dessert mix business -- which includes its classic gelatin boxes -- still accounts for a large percentage of sales. Jell-O's snack offerings, which include prepared gelatin and pudding cups, must battle in the crowded snacking category, which includes everything from a candy bar to a bag of chips.

To figure out Jell-O's place in the snack world, Kraft conducted months of qualitative and quantitate consumer testing that included having participants fill out food journals, while asking them to describe the attributes of different snack choices. "There's a lot of snacks that are very functional and make rational, logical sense to consumers," Mr. O'Leary said. But "what Jell-O has that a lot of brands don't have is that fun angle," he added. "In the ads, we're really trying to play off the imaginative quality of the brand."

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