10 Minute Case Study – Miracle Whip

Last week, I was looking over some links that my friends had posted on Facebook when I came across one titled “Miracle Whip to Colbert: We Will Own You” from Comedy Central’s Insider blog.  Miracle Whip has launched new ads portraying itself as a louder and  more exciting alternative to mayonnaise.  Stephen Colbert, on his show, took this as an affront to the good name of mayo (assuming that it has one), and lambasted Miracle Whip.  Miracle Whip, in response, took out a full page ad the following day and bought airtime in each of the Colbert Report‘s commercial breaks to respond.  What did this all accomplish?  Miracle Whip got some publicity for its ads, and Comedy Central got some additional ad revenue (which Colbert promised he would use to buy more mayonnaise.)

When I followed the link (and the subsequent story), I expected to get a quick laugh, but I instead found myself dissecting this re-positioning of the Miracle Whip brand.  Can Miracle Whip succeed at reaching a younger audience by recasting their product as, as Slate calls it, “mayonnaise for hipsters”?  Compare a 1983 ad to the 2009 ad.

Gone is “a sandwich just isn’t a sandwich without Miracle Whip”.  Instead, we’re told “don’t be so mayo”.  Why?  Arguably, to target 18-35 year olds instead of the older audience that already uses the product.  This much should be clear just from looking at the actors in each spot.  Whether this shift in user demographic succeeds will be more apparent as time goes on.  If nothing else, the mock crusade by Colbert and Miracle Whip’s response have increased awareness of the brand among the show’s viewers.  I wouldn’t be surprised if some viewers thought that Miracle Whip was just another functionally-identical  mayonnaise brand until they were told otherwise.  When I was younger (and less brand-savvy, I suppose), this had to be explained to me by an annoyed customer when I worked in a deli department and was about to apply the wrong sandwich spread to a hoagie that I was making.

What struck me most was not what was changed between the classic ad and the new one, but what was added.  Miracle Whip’s old slogan didn’t mention its competitor, but the new one does.  In Positioning, Al Ries refers to a French marketing expression “cherchez le crenau”, or “look for the hole”.  Basically, it refers to finding an opening in the market and filling it with your product.  In cases like the well-known Avis marketing (described in an earlier post), this is done by acknowledging the competitor and noting the difference between your two products.  In Miracle Whip’s case, it is acknowledging that mayonnaise is the best known oil-based sandwich spread, but it also pointing out where it’s different by noting a tangier taste and using “mayo” as a pejorative.

One may ask whether they are also trying to re-position mayonnaise.  You could argue this both ways, but I think that they aren’t, for two reasons.  First, Kraft (the producers of Miracle Whip)  is also a leading producer of mayonnaise, and they have to be cognizant of cannibalization.  Secondly, and more pragmatically, mayonnaise is a very well known product, and most people have already long-since made up their minds about it.  Miracle Whip hopes that those who prefer not to use mayonnaise will embrace Miracle Whip.  They’re not asking the consumers of Kraft mayonnaise to switch their loyalty, and they’re not shooting over the bow of Unilever’s Hellmann’s brand.

Now, whether I’m hip enough to identify with Miracle Whip is an analysis for another day.  In the meantime, though, I’m using mustard on my sandwiches.

  • Steve Brown

    To me this is a standard case of a brand needing a refresh. The awareness of the old Miracle Whip campaigns may still be within the psyche of the older generation, but for those in the 18-35 space awareness is little at best, and generics have taken over this market likely. Kraft had it positioned as a soldier brand with no support for the last many years, and the results have likely hit the bottom line.
    Developing a branding campaign for the 18-35 market who doesn’t know or care about the old campaign may help get spread back into the consumer consciousness while not damaging the branding opinion of the older generation. It’s a good bet and I like it.

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