Mars musters $50 mil ad blitz behind Bowls

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Mars Inc. plans to almost triple marketing spending for its Uncle Ben's Rice Bowls in 2001 as it launches 20 new items and aims to strengthen its leadership position in the burgeoning bowls segment.

The company will allocate $50 million to its Uncle Ben's frozen line next year. That will be split among new extensions of the bowls, including the national launch in January of tween-targeted Mini Bowls and multiple-serving Super Bowls. Last year, Uncle Ben's spent $16 million in measured media advertising its bowl products, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

The new varieties will help Mars expand usage of its Uncle Ben's Rice Bowls beyond the female, 25-to-40 users of its current 16-ounce offerings to the 13-to-17-year-old set who might be looking for an after-school snack or meal, as well as to couples and small families.


"Uncle Ben's has been instrumental in helping to create the bowl segment, and we want to build on our momentum and success by developing products that are uniquely relevant to a broader range of consumers. These efforts will enable Uncle Ben's to further generate incremental growth in the frozen category, " a Mars spokeswoman said.

To promote Mini Bowls, a line of six 8-ounce meals in a bowl, Mars will reach out to tweens by attaching MTV mini-CDs to 2 million bowl lids.

The mini-CDs feature interactive games, screen savers, Web links to hip teen sites, discount offers and a sweepstakes wherein kids can win an Apple Computer iMac, a Sony CD Walkman, a walk-on role on Fox Family Channel's "S Club 7" or a grand prize block party with MTV host Carson Daly. The mini-CDs will also contain music featuring up-and-coming artists such as BB Mack, Brissa and Youngstown.

The new varieties and the CD-based sweepstakes will be supported with national TV advertising March through July and print ads in such magazines as Nickelodeon, Seventeen, SI for Kids and Teen from March through September. The ads from D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York, likely will tout how Uncle Ben's Mini Bowls "plug into kid power," especially because "Taste rules" for the kid-size bowl varieties.


For Super Bowls, a line of four 26-ounce bowl varieties that serve two to three people, Mars will run national TV from March through June, and print ads in such publications as Cosmopolitan, Glamour and People from March through September. Sales materials reflect the theme, "It's a whole new bowl game."

Packages of the new multiserve bowls will carry mail-in offers for free movie tickets and video rentals from March through June. Consumers can send in five proofs of purchase to get a movie certificate worth up to $9.50 and three proofs of purchase for a $3 rental certificate.


In addition to the 10 items that extend usage of the bowls to new audiences, Mars also is building upon its existing lineup of 16-ounce Rice Bowls with three new Mexican varieties, a Chili Bowl and three additional varieties. A new line of three Pasta Bowls will extend Mars' existing Noodle Bowls entries beyond spaghetti noodles to other pasta types, including rotini and penne.

The 10 new items will be supported with TV ads from D'Arcy that began last month and will run intermittently throughout the year as well as with print ads running February through November, both carrying the tagline, "Satisfy your passion for good food." Coupons inside 4 million frozen M&M/Mars products from January through March, in-store sampling on new pasta and Mexican varieties and a mobile bus tour making stops at events such as Nascar races and golf and tennis tours also will support the line extensions.

Competitors in the bowl arena include ConAgra Foods, with its Healthy Choice Bowl Creations line, sales of which grew 1.8% to $77 million for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 8, according to Information Resources Inc. ConAgra also introduced a line of Marie Callender's Bowls in August in western states, and H.J. Heinz launched its own bowl line under the low-calorie, low-fat Smart Ones brand in September (AA, Aug. 14). Uncle Ben's Rice Bowls sales totaled $105 million, while Uncle Ben's Noodle Bowls saw total sales of $17 million for the same time period.

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