With a quirky new ad campaign, protein bar marketer RXBar is putting a new spin on a line that's been part of its mission since the beginning: No B.S.
The phrase was on labels the Chicago-based marketer stuck on by hand, featuring other wording such as "As prescribed by nature," when it started out selling the chewy bars directly to gyms. And, yes, CEO Peter Rahal admits he "fired" his mom (she wasn't actually being paid) because she didn't put the labels on just right.
Fast-forward a few years, and the bars, made with main ingredients including egg whites, nuts and dates, were so hot that Kellogg Co. last fall bought the company for about $600 million in a deal that signaled how seriously "Big Food" is paying attention to more nimble startups.
"We're in the big leagues now," says Rahal, sitting in a conference room at the headquarters his company moved into last spring. The company, for now, still has the name Chicago Bar Co. But it's best known as its product name, RXBar.
With sales on track to double this year, Rahal says, and as distribution has increased, the time seems right for its biggest ever marketing push. The line now includes nut butter and bars for kids, but, for now, the focus in the ads remains on the flagship bars. RXBar executives say they've maintained their freedom since Kellogg bought the company, even though the cereal giant -- which scooped up RXBar when its annual sales were hovering around $120 million -- keeps a distant eye on things.
Clearly, RXBar's marketing department is calling its own shots. Most Kellogg brands wouldn't center a campaign around the words "No B.S." appearing on screens and some sarcastic lines being uttered by rapper and actor Ice-T. In one spot, his only line is "Hi, I'm famous, and this is a commercial."
He's not the most likely choice, perhaps. And, of course, that's the point.
"He's such an unconventional voice in the space," says Charlie Hart, whose title at RXBar is director of masterbrand.
Plus, the rapper/actor/producer, who appears in many, but not all, of RXBar's new ads, may help the brand appeal to a broad range of potential customers. He's recognizable to those who recall raps from the 1980s and 1990s and those who recognize him as Fin Tutuola from "Law & Order: SVU" on NBC and in seemingly constant cable reruns.
In five years, RXBar has gone from a protein bar concocted in a kitchen to appeal to CrossFit devotees to gaining shelf space at retailers such as Trader Joe's, Walmart and Whole Foods, along with doing steady sales sales online through its own site and others including Amazon.
Rahal says he feels like "there's a rat race going on" among the smaller food makers eager to win over shoppers with better-for-you items, while the bigger manufacturers have been a bit slower to make their own similar products in ways that appeal to today's changing tastes. Instead, many have started incubators and investment arms to find the right products. After all, Kellogg makes plenty of its own better-for-you snack bars, but paid a pretty sum to buy RXBar. And weeks after that deal was announced, Mars grabbed a minority stake in Kind, one of RXBar's competitors.
As Rahal says, "RXBar is a dumbass idea." The product's premise is "so aggressively simple," he says that's exactly why it isn't the kind of thing a big food maker's R&D lab would come up with.