How 'Cheesepocalypse' Helped Velveeta Bond with Its Biggest Fans

Kraft Was Already Finding 'Super Consumers' on TV, But They Identified Themselves in Social Media

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The "Cheesepocalypse" shortage of Velveeta products before the Super Bowl in January was pure gold for the brand, which not only basked in copious free publicity but also used the opportunity to locate some of the people who loved it most in social media, said an executive for Kraft Foods in a presentation at the Advertising Research Foundation Re:Think conference in New York today.


The shortage, first reported by Advertising Age and repeated in countless other news outlets (many of which noted the #cheesepocalypse social-media hashtag that emerged almost instantly) may actually have been a tad overblown. It affected only one-pound boxes of the processed cheese product, not the two-pound boxes that account for most brand volume, said Cannon Koo, director of analytics for Kraft, in an interview after his presentation. Nevertheless, he said, "It was great. It helped our sales."

Absence, or even a remote possibility of absence, can make hearts of true brand fans grow stronger, and that clearly was the case with Cheesepocalypse, in which they lamented the impending doom of a Super Bowl without their favorite processed cheese.

Kraft was already well into a project aided by Nielsen's Cambridge Group consulting unit to identify Velveeta's "super-consumers," the people who, by Cambridge's reckoning, account for 10% of buyers, 30% to 70% of sales and 50% or more of profits for just about any brand. These Velveeta "super- consumers" were also studied by the Harvard Business Review.

Kraft has found these biggest fans on cable TV using Nielsen Catalina Solutions, which weds Nielsen TV ratings, shopper-card data from Catalina and other data sources to analyze audiences according to such things as how much Velveeta they buy. Analyzing social media during the Cheespocalypse added another dimension for understanding the intensity of the brand's fans, said Cambridge Group Principal Eddie Yoon.

"If you don't believe all consumers are of equal value, then not all GRPs [gross rating points] are the same," said Mr. Yoon. Kraft used NCS to find clumps of Velveeta fans in such places as the Food Network and Hallmark Channel, but particularly concentrated in Bravo (indexing 129 for processed cheese lovers); Lifetime (index 137) and FX (index 146). Kraft pays about the same to reach a Velveeta super fan as it pays to reach a brie eater, all other things being equal, but it analyzes its upfront TV buys to find the shows with the biggest concentrations of Velveeta lovers, Mr. Koo said.

The super-consumer concept has changed the company's view of Velveeta, which was essentially being milked for profit before Mr. Yoon and Cambridge Group came along, Mr. Koo said.

"It was highly profitable, but we didn't see a lot of growth potential," Mr. Koo said. "As we started doing more research with the super-consumer concept, we realized this brand could really grow."

Now, Kraft uses focus groups and meal diaries to study the super-consumers and focuses ad and product development on pleasing them. Among other things, Mr. Koo said Kraft was surprised to learn Velveeta's biggest fans often eat it on sandwiches cold rather than melting it.

Sales and share are now growing, Mr. Koo said, and Kraft's marketing-mix models from a vendor independent of NIelsen show advertising efficiency has risen too.

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