Promos, not ad dollars, will help hot dogs sizzle

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Summer, when up to 60% of the hot dogs in this country are sold, is bringing new products and promotions but relatively little new ad spending to support them.

Steven Silk, president of Con-Agra's National Foods division, promises that Hebrew National will double its advertising this year as it returns to a 20-year ad theme dropped five years ago, "We answer to a higher authority." But even with a larger budget for the brand--a kosher hot dog with pockets of regional strength in markets like New York and Miami--spending will only reach about $4 million to $5 million.

$20 MIL IN ADS

Last year, the category's top dogs--Oscar Mayer Foods, Sara Lee Corp. and Con-Agra--spent about $20 million in measured media for their franks, according to Competitive Media Reporting. And that's not expected to rise even with the launch of two new lines, Oscar Mayer Jumbo and Hebrew National 97% Fat Free.

"Given our price and our margin, that's a very competitive spending level" for Hebrew National, Mr. Silk said. The brand holds a 3% share of the total market, he added.

Grey Advertising, New York, handles the ad effort, which revives the "We answer to a higher authority" tagline; ads are set to break around Memorial Day.

Category leader Oscar Mayer, meanwhile, is plumping up its product line with the new Jumbo.

According to Mary Boeding, business director at the Kraft Foods unit, there's been softness in low-fat and fat-free hot dogs, a primary focus of Oscar Mayer last year, when it invested $1.8 million in measured spending behind its Oscar Mayer Free hot dog.

Hot dogs are a $1.4 billion category, according to Information Resources Inc. Oscar Mayer holds a 19% share; Sara Lee, which markets the Hygrade, Ball Park, Best's and Bryan Foods brands, comes in second with a 15.2% share. No. 3 ConAgra, which markets the Healthy Choice, Hebrew National and Armour brands, has 13.2%.

LIMITED SUPPORT FOR JUMBO

Jumbo is Oscar Mayer's answer to oversize franks, accounting for 30% of category usage. But marketing support is limited to couponing, in-store ads and a magazine schedule starting in May, via J. Walter Thompson USA, Chicago.

The sole magazine ad, juxtaposing its Wienermobile with a Jumbo, reads: "Well, it's almost the biggest hot dog we make."

Ms. Boeding said the flagship line will be part of the company's Oscar Mayer Talent Search III, kicking off June 18 with a print and TV campaign also from JWT.

The company wouldn't discuss spending, but its outlays probably won't top the $3 million CMR shows Oscar Mayer spent on hot dogs last year.

The big ad spender this year is expected to be Sara Lee's Hygrade unit, for its Ball Park brand, which received $9 million in ads last year.

Hygrade has just introduced a 100% Fat-Free Smoked White Turkey Frank and is currently running a new TV spot featuring spokesman Michael Jordan.

That spot, themed "It's not really summer 'til you've had your Ball Park," will later include tags for the new product and the overall Fat-Free line, said Margaret Riley, VP-director of marketing.

TV is handled by Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York, and print ads by Eidos Advertising, Farmington Hills, Mich.

Sara Lee's Bryan Foods is sponsoring a sweepstakes for that regional brand, offering prizes of a grill, a "Southern family vacation" or 20 airline tickets for a family reunion. PGC, Dallas, handles.

Copyright April 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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