F'real Foods is getting serious about marketing its milkshakes, debuting the first ad campaign in its ten year history.
Over the last 10 years, the beverage company has installed self-serve milkshake blenders in 10,000 convenience stores and college campuses across the U.S. and Canada. It positions itself as an alternative to the fast food milkshake, allowing consumers to grab a flavor from the attached freezer, play with the touch-screen menu and blend shakes to their liking.
But consumer adoption has been slow. Unaided awareness for F'real is only at 1%, according to Stephanie Brendel, vp-marketing for the brand. "We've not had a lot of geographic density for us to really get out of the stores and get the brand in consumers' minds before they walk in," she said.
That's about to change. F'real hired Muhtayzik Hoffer for its first advertising campaign, which is debuting in Midwest test markets. The $1 million campaign includes a :30 commercial and a :45 online video, Pandora radio spots and online and mobile banners produced in conjunction with John Kricfalusi, creator of the 1990s Nickelodeon cartoon "Ren & Stimpy."
F'real will test how well the campaign drives awareness and trial in three markets this summer -- Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Cleveland, Ohio; and Des Moines, Iowa -- where F'real will also be present at major league baseball games and local events, in an effort to reach its target consumers, aged 13 to 22. Based on performance, F'real plans to expand the campaign to more cities next year to support the addition of another 10,000 F'real stations in the next three to five years.
Ad Age: Your competitors are quick-service restaurants, which control the milkshake segment. How big do you consider the milkshake market to be, and how does your brand personality differentiate you?
Ms. Brendel: This is where we walk a little bit of a tightrope here. Pretty much everyone enjoys a good milkshake. We do have a target market that's much younger. But we don't want to offend anybody, so we're really trying to convey a personality that is social, making people feel like they belong. There's some wholesomeness. We're trying to balance that by being slightly irreverent, so smart and funny but not offensive in any way, and then a feeling of happiness.
The milkshake market, if you look at it from a serving standpoint, there are a billion servings of milkshakes just in the U.S. that are served every year. When you look at where those are coming from, the top nine sellers of milkshakes are quick-serve restaurants, such as McDonald's, Wendy's, Sonic and Dairy Queen. One way we differentiate is product quality, and that's the biggest thing, in that our product is ice cream and milk. We're not made from a mix.
Ad Age: Years ago, people called your shakes "Wawa shakes" based on the convenience store where they bought them. What sort of brand building did you do to get away from that, and how will you get the name "F'real" in consumers' minds?
Ms. Brendel: Earlier in our development, Wawa had a huge marketing campaign just to let people know they had milkshakes. And if you've ever been to a Wawa store, everything is really branded Wawa. And the branding on our cups really wasn't that strong. So people just started calling them the Wawa shake. But in places where we've gotten a foothold of distribution in the past three years or so, F'real is definitely the name that people walk away with now when they have one of our products.
We did change the packaging. We've tried to make a little store-within-a-store to let consumers know that when you walk into a convenience store, there's a place in that store called a Blending Bar where you blend milkshakes. We had a project last year where we visited all of our installed blending bases, which was nearly 8,000 locations at the time, and we installed signage and point-of-sale around them to bring that concept to life.
For the last couple years, we've been experimenting with sampling out of the stores. So we've got a truck that's got eight blenders attached to it, and we sample our product on the East Coast, where we really strengthened distribution a couple years ago.