McCain Foods Hits the Campaign Trail

Spud Peddler Cashes In on Namesake Politician's Run for Prez

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Some tie-ins just write themselves. McCain Foods, a Canadian package-food company that has languished in American freezer aisles for years, has decided it's time for a change -- at least in frozen potatoes.
In the running: Marketer takes advantage of presidential campaign.
In the running: Marketer takes advantage of presidential campaign.

McCain is spending the equivalent of its annual online budget between now and early November. The swell is fortuitously in sync with the ascendance of the presidential candidate of the same name. Just like a politician, the company is capitalizing on name recognition with an election-themed campaign, breaking this week in USA Today.

"We were looking at how to make our ad dollars work harder for us with breakthrough advertising in an Olympic and [election] year," Frank Finn, senior VP-commercial operations for McCain Foods USA, said of his company's search for "disruptive" advertising.

McCain and Chicago-based agency Schafer Condon Carter decided on "Why McCain should be in the White House." The campaign is for the company's namesake frozen french fries, sweet-potato fries and kid-friendly "smiles." Since McCain doesn't use trans-fatty oils, a sample slogan is "McCain goes to war over oil." Another one: "McCain brings 'smiles' to millions," referencing the company's disc-shaped potato product with smiley faces cut out.

The campaign will start in print and then go online with a politically themed website, complete with a gruff, mumbling "spokespotato" in a suit and horn-rimmed glasses. There is a variety of sections, including "Ask the Candidate," "Recipes for Change" and the ever-important polls (baked or fried?). Web banners on other sites are expected to draw consumers to the company's website, McCainPotatoes.com.

On-screen talent
Schafer Condon managing partner Tim Condon said the agency will alert John McCain's people before the full-page USA Today ad drops Aug. 29.

McCain has also hired former "Mad TV" star and frequent impersonator Frank Caliendo to do his best John McCain on the same day, recording on-the-street and studio-quality videos for the company's website and immediate posting on YouTube. McCain is also making Mr. Caliendo available for in-character TV interviews. The actor will be given a series of talking points. The best answer to a question about the environment might be "Clean your plate," Mr. Finn said, or something about "zero offshore drilling," since the company uses trans-fat-free oils.

"I don't know if Caliendo's going to like those, though," Mr. Finn said, acknowledging the possibility of a hired comedian going off-book. "You have to let Frank do what he does best."

The brand is going after Heinz's Ore-Ida, which rings up the bulk of frozen-potato sales. McCain's blue packaging isn't an accidental contrast to Ore-Ida's red bags. While the company's supermarket take is small potatoes compared with that of its better-known rival, McCain sees value in the No. 2 spot.

"Basically everything after that is private label," Mr. Condon said.

'Campaign for change'
While elements of the campaign are risky, Mr. Finn said, he's not losing any sleep.

"It's a campaign for change -- and everybody knows that's Barack -- with a blue bag vs. the red, people get it," Mr. Finn said. "The only big news now is who's going to be the VP choices. People are looking for something creative."

The company hopes to keep the campaign alive until early November, unless of course events with the other McCain make it seem old.

"There's a possibility it could be a little outdated by then," Mr. Finn said.
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