After struggling to gain share in the Greek yogurt segment, Yoplait is taking the gloves off with a new campaign that calls out category leader Chobani by name.
One TV ad in the campaign, called "The Yoplait Greek Taste-Off," declares that "people agree, Yoplait Greek blueberry tastes better than Chobani blueberry." The brand, part of General Mills, cites a national taste test it says found that 65% of consumers prefer the Yoplait variety to Chobani's fruit-on-the bottom version.
The effort will include digital, social, PR and in-store promotions, including taste tests in hundreds of grocery stores. It will encourage consumers to do their own side-by-side comparisons and share the results on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with the hashtag "#TasteOff." There will also be a Tumblr page at GreekTasteOff.Tumblr.com.
The Yoplait campaign follows ads for Dannon's Oikos Greek brand in 2011 and 2012 that said Oikos beat Chobani "two to one in a national taste test."
Both Yoplait and Dannon are playing catch-up in the Greek segment, following Chobani's launch in 2007. Asked why Yoplait Greek decided to call out Chobani, Marketing Director Carla Vernon said: "We thought it would be great for consumers to know that we are a great-tasting Greek yogurt even when compared with something they are very familiar with."
But overall, blatant head-to-head comparisons are somewhat rare in advertising. Notable exceptions include Prego's long-running campaign targeting Ragu, a "Dunkin' Beat Starbucks" campaign in 2008 and Kraft's Oscar Mayer broadside against Ball Park wieners, which led to lawsuits and a legal settlement between Kraft and Sara Lee in 2011.
"You don't see that many comparative ads running these days," said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management."If anything, it seems like there are a little bit less right now then we even saw a couple years ago." He cited the rise of social media. "There is a real risk in a social world is that you can prompt a backlash if you are too aggressive at attacking a competitor."
One approach is to be a bit more passive-aggressive, as Burger King was in a recent ad claiming that its "Satisfries" have 40% less fat and 30% fewer calories. Viewers had to read the fine print on the screen to learn that the subject of the comparison was McDonald's fries. Other brands are leaning on humor to keep things light, like this Jaguar ad referencing Mercedes-Benz.
Yoplait's attack ad is notable because it calls out a competitor that didn't even exist for much of Yoplait's 50-year history. But Yoplait has a lot of ground to make up in Greek. Chobani as of late last year controlled about 39% of the Greek segment, according to a report by Sanford C. Bernstein. Yoplait didn't introduce a Greek version until 2010, and as of last year it had 8% of the segment.
Yoplait's taste-test ad comes after the brand reintroduced its Greek variety late last year with a formula it says more closely adheres to authentic Greek straining methods.
According to General Mills, the campaign's claims come from a blind taste test conducted by TNS, a research unit owned by Kantar, which used a nationally representative sample size of more than 300 people. Blueberry was selected because it is the most popular yogurt flavor, Ms. Vernon said.
Asked to respond, Chobani Chief Marketing Officer Peter McGuinness said in a statement: "At Chobani, we've always made delicious, nutritious, natural and accessible yogurt, which we're proud and honored to say has made us America's No. 1 Greek Yogurt brand."
The Yoplait campaign is by Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, the longtime Yoplait agency which is back on the Greek business again after Olson ran a campaign for the variety last year. Ms. Vernon said the brand continues to work with both Olson and Saatchi.
Chobani and Yoplait are also battling in the burgeoning low-cal Greek yogurt segment. Chobani recently released a new variety called Chobani Simply 100 that is touted as the "only 100-calorie authentic strained Greek Yogurt made with only natural ingredients." The variety represents a direct challenge to Yoplait's Greek 100-calorie variety that was launched in 2012 and reached $150 million in sales in its first year.