Created by J. Walter Thomp-son USA, Chicago, the campaign centers on a tongue-in-cheek character named "Cheezy Guy," who is host of a "film festival." The effort includes five humorous, live-action films on various wacky topics. Each film is about 5 minutes and is being beamed to thousands of college students this month via the Internet.
The campaign uses print, radio and other offline marketing to spread the word, including limited print ads, and marks Kraft's first-ever ads in Maxim (other buys include Cosmopolitan, Glamour and Spin). Next spring, Kraft will launch a nationwide tour of three Winnebagos outfitted with faux-retro decor and campy props visiting 64 college campuses. Characters wearing giant Cheezy Guy heads will drum up support and distribute Cheez Whiz samples at the events.
Although Cheezy Guy is a cartoon character, the films are real, drawing on the directing talents of high-profile commercial director Charles Wittenmeyer, who was inspired by the low-brow humor of the project, said Mark Westman, a JWT art director who helped conceive the project two years ago with Greg Oreskovich, a senior writer at the agency.
"We wanted to help Cheez Whiz get back in the mainstream with college students, who constantly use this kind of product for snacks and dips, so we made a direct attack with a humorous, cheesy attitude, spoofing the cultural image of Cheez Whiz," Mr. Oreskovich said. The effort coincides with a repositioning of Cheez Whiz, including a new, wide-mouth jar for easier dipping, vs. the previous tapered jar.
The viral strategy: Kraft sent e-mails including a link to view the first film to 250,000 college students this month, urging them to forward the e-mail to a friend. Each week from now through December, Kraft will release another 5-minute film as the "festival" continues, and the marketer hopes college kids will be intrigued enough to visit the Cheezy Guy Web site (cheezyguy.com).
The e-mail distribution was executed by Radical Communi-cations, Marina del Rey, Calif., using a technology that takes viewers directly to the site from an e-mail that's also easy to forward to other people.
Like many other efforts targeting fickle adults 18 to 24, the brand message on the e-mail campaign and at the Web site is subtle. Visitors to the Cheezy Guy site can explore the host's "home pad" and see two containers of Cheez Whiz among the furnishings. By clicking on the site's "kitchen," snack recipes featuring Cheez Whiz appear, but there are no other mentions of the product.
"This audience is very savvy; they want to do the discovering, not the other way around. . . . They want to feel a sense of ownership in an underground movement like the groundswell of interest that led to Christina Aguilera's rise and the `Blair Witch Project' buzz," said Chitra Ebenezer, brand manager for Cheez Whiz at Kraft.
Another element in the viral marketing strategy is to get other online partners to feature the films from Cheezy Guy's festival. ESPN.com has come aboard with a college football-theme promotion called "The Big Cheese of the Week," featuring animated images of Cheezy Guy, calling attention to noteworthy players and coaches; one grand prize in the promotion is a free home stereo system.
"Other Web sites are interested in good content, and the films we've created are breeding opportunities of their own; our goal is have pieces of Cheezy Guy's Web site turning up in other places as another viral tactic," Mr. Westman said.
Kraft said it will watch to see if the campaign gets results before adding more media or expanding this viral marketing approach to other products.
"With this audience you have to be very grassroots, you have to hit them under the radar and get people talking," Ms. Ebenezer said. "It may be subtle but it can be very effective if you get the right buzz going with the target audience."