Strategies: Sizzle & Stir's hot spots get shelved

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Despite last year's red hot ad campaign, Unilever Bestfoods will abandon TV advertising for its Lipton Sizzle & Stir meal kits this year, citing the product's failure to live up to sales expectations.

The star-studded ad effort from Bcom3 Group-backed Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York, which created "families" of such varied personalities as George Hamilton, Mr. T, Lonnie Anderson and Mary Lou Retton, made it onto the Top Advertising of the Year lists of Time Inc.'s Entertainment Weekly and Time and Gannett Co.'s USA Today. The campaign, which also featured Chuck Woolery, Sally Jesse Raphael, Pat Morita and Little Richard, garnered great buzz (a 3.5 star rating by Ad Age critic Bob Garfield and a lengthy segment on NBC's "Today") but not-so-great business.

Despite an outlay of $21 million in TV spending in 2000 and $17 million during the first nine months of 2001, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR, the brand last year had only $30 million in sales, despite growth of 22% over 2000.

"The consumer [for Sizzle & Stir] is not there as much as we'd like them to be," said Senior Brand Manager Tom Ennis, noting that the ad focus will now shift to the larger Lipton side dish business.

The change is partly a result of the company's overall strategy to focus on the bigger brands within its portfolio (AA, Dec. 12). While Lipton side dishes represent $250 million in sales, those products have not received any measured media over the last two years.

"We saw what BBH could do on a smaller base. Now we want them to focus on creating the same kind of breakthrough advertising for the bigger business in the hopes of seeing a much greater return," Mr. Ennis said.

stiff competition

Another driver in Unilever's decision is increased competition in the nearly $500 billion dry dinner-mix category.

Sizzle & Stir, specifically targeting upscale dual-income couples looking for quality shortcuts, was introduced in early 2000 as an alternative to General Mills' long-successful Helper franchise.

But Kraft Foods had recently entered the segment with its own similar-targeted entry, Stove Top Oven Classics, and since then Campbell Soup and ConAgra Foods have also jumped on the bandwagon with Campbell's Supper Bakes and Homestyle Bakes, respectively. Meanwhile, Mr. Ennis said, the category "is not necessarily getting bigger, we're just splitting the pie."

While Unilever Bestfoods will continue to support Sizzle & Stir with "more tactical things like print or maybe radio," Mr. Ennis said, side dishes will be the star of the Lipton-branded food advertising this year. In mid-March, Unilever Bestfoods will launch a full line of Asian side dishes (the first of a variety of new initiatives), and a yet-to-be-determined campaign from Bartle Bogle will bow in April.

Mr. Ennis acknowledged the tone-of-voice and feel of the new work may be "very much the same" as the Sizzle & Stir effort, and said that even some celebrity-filled ads are being considered.

The difference, this time around, is side dishes will be billed as the supporting act, rather than the main dish.

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