Touting two products at once is hardly new, of course,
especially with in-store promotions or retail circulars that might
suggest the pairing of a soda with a snack, for instance. But the
Kraft-ConAgra partnership is notable for its size and scope and
could signal a new wave of collaboration as marketers look to
defray rising media costs.
"In the era of limited resources it's becoming very important
for both of us: One, because of the bang for the buck, and two,
we've been able to get greater investment from both of our
companies because of the partnership," said Jason Ginsberg, a
ConAgra brand manager who oversees Ro-Tel.
Indeed, left on their own, Velveeta and Ro-Tel would likely get
little advertising attention, as both parent companies funnel most
of their spending to higher-profile brands. "This is a way to get
more dollars to spend against advertising and drag more awareness
of our messaging," said Katie Peterson, senior brand manager for
And as companies streamline their brand portfolio, it might free
them to pursue more joint efforts. A narrower focus "makes it a lot
easier to work with people because they say that company is
fundamentally different than me," said David Diamond, a
packaged-goods marketing consultant.
But there are challenges: How do the brands, which use different
ad agencies, pick the right shop? Who handles media buying? How do
they protect company secrets? Kraft and ConAgra discussed their
collaboration in -- what else -- a joint interview with Ad Age ,
sharing insights on why their partnership works and how it came
The Kraft-ConAgra combo began quietly seven years ago with a
more typical program in which the two brands used in-store displays
to jointly promote Velveeta and Ro-Tel. Finding success, the
companies formalized the relationship, launching joint TV ads three
years ago. This fall, the marketers plan to boost spending by 25%
with eight new TV spots plugging tomato-infused queso dip that
started about a week ago and run for six months. Print and digital
ads plug other meals, such as casseroles and skillet meals. Last
year, the two companies spent nearly $10 million on co-branded TV
ads for the brands, according to Nielsen.
They decided against putting the creative work up for formal
review, instead alternating shops each year. Last year the campaign
went to Interpublic's DraftFCB, which at the time was
Kraft's agency for Velveeta. But Velveeta now has no agency of
record, so the companies gave it to Omnicom's DDB, San Francisco, which handled the joint
campaign two years ago and works on a variety of ConAgra brands,
including Ro-Tel. For digital, the team went with Kraft's agency,
360i. Each year "we
re-evaluate which agency makes sense based on that year's objective
and that year's creative brief and between the two companies we
decide which agency is best fit to take on that project," Ms.
Media buying is a bit more complicated, since the companies are
obligated by contract to use their own agencies—WPP's
MediaCom for ConAgra
and a team from Publicis' Digitas and MediaVest for Kraft. The solution?
Split it in two with each marketer's shop handling buying for three
months apiece. The agencies "worked together to build one holistic
media plan that made sense for the full six months," Ms. Peterson
For agencies, "it's a little daunting to walk into a room with
two sets of clients," said Travis Parr, associate creative director
at DDB. But "these guys were really good about being respectful of
each other and listening to each other [with] a lot of give and
take and back and forth."
It helps that Velveeta and Ro-Tel are both run out of suburban
Chicago. Mr. Ginsberg and Ms. Peterson both live downtown and meet
frequently. And the team even gathers at each other's corporate
offices, which could be considered enemy territory, full of
proprietary info. So, do they keep each other out of certain
conference rooms? "I haven't tried to go into other areas, but it's
been a very warm welcome at ConAgra," Ms. Peterson said. Mr.
Ginsberg added: "We don't have any interest in jeopardizing the
partnership" because if it ended, that "would have huge
ramifications on our individual businesses."