Oreo is trying to take its marketing from dunking in the dark to lighting some sparks, with a limited-edition flavor called Firework.
It's actually doing what might be called a double-stuffed promotion, simultaneously searching for future flavor ideas.
Limited-edition Oreos come out a few times a year. There are two twists this time around. The newest version offers a new sensory experience rather than a new flavor, with red and blue popping candy pieces mixed into the traditional creme.
Also for the first time, Oreo is asking fans come up with flavor ideas.
The effort comes at an important time for Oreo's U.S. business. Parent company Mondelez International Inc.'s first-quarter sales declined in North America, due in part to weakness in the biscuits category in which Oreo is a key player.
"We keep trying to challenge ourselves to come up with more and more exciting flavors to capture in an Oreo cookie, but this is the first time that we're really taking an experience and capturing it in an Oreo cookie," Madeline Vincent, brand manager, Oreo North America, said. To her, the cookie "really brings back that childhood wonder of watching a fireworks show."
Taste testers at Ad Age did notice a difference from the usual Oreo experience, if not quite fireworks-level popping.
"It tastes the same but crunchy," said one, while another asked whether Pop Rocks were added. "I feel like I'm hearing it more than feeling it," said a fellow tester.
Firework is the latest limited-time Oreo, following spring's Peeps variety. The seemingly constant flavor churn can help keep Oreo on people's minds and, more importantly, in their shopping carts. The brand is a critical one for Mondelez's success. Oreo is the world's top-selling cookie, available in more than 100 countries with annual sales exceeding $2 billion. In late 2016, Mondelez began selling Milka Oreo chocolate bars in the U.S., pitting the brand against candy aisle rivals including Hershey and Mars.
The U.S., where Oreo got its start in 1912, remains the cookie's biggest market. But Mondelez's U.S. biscuit business -- as it is endearingly referred to -- delivered a weak quarter, even with the launch of a celebrity-backed campaign for Oreo. North America was the only region in which Mondelez saw underlying sales decline, with a 1.9% drop.
U.S. dollar sales of the main Oreo line declined 7.2% to $703.7 million in the 52 weeks ended April 16, while sales in the overall the cookie category grew 1.8%, according to data from Chicago-based market research firm IRI. Still, there is some brand growth: the newer Oreo Thins line rose 58% to nearly $127.2 million, IRI data show.
"I think news is a great way to help kind of reignite passion when we see the soft category," Vincent said of the broader cookie industry Oreo dominates. "We think it's a great opportunity and actually the campaign is coming at a great time."
The recent Oreo Dunk Challenge gave fans a chance to meet Christina Aguilera or Shaquille O'Neal in a multi-month campaign built around the art of dunking an Oreo. It is playing out internationally as well.
In the U.S., Oreo is again using some celebrity muscle for the #MyOreoCreation contest, working with more than 60 influencers including Ellie Kemper, Tituss Burgess, Aly Raisman and Freddie Prinze Jr., Vincent said. It is also planning to have what she called "a really playful conversation with our fans," including unique responses to some contest entrants.
Three finalist flavors will hit stores next May, with a grand prize winner set to be chosen via fan voting in July 2018. The winner gets $500,000 and the chance to taste unreleased Oreo products.
#Ad Working w/ @oreo 4 the #MyOreoCreation #Contest. If Firework OREO cookies are a thing I want a Broadway flavor. My inspo? Red velvet meets the red carpet meets glittery, golden buttercream. How glam would that be for a viewing party snack with friends? Share yours! #MyOreoCreation #Contest bit.ly/2pOf4Dw