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food marketing

Super Branding

Super Branding

              The New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons are not the only ones gearing up for Super Bowl LI, this NFL Championship game is also extremely important for marketers and brands. With over 100 million viewers each year, having your product in a Super Bowl commercial is a guaranteed (but expensive) way for brands to make themselves known. This year advertisers are thinking outside of the box to keep viewers engaged. As Bruce Lefkowitz, the executive VP of ad sales for Fox Networks Group said, “Companies are rethinking how they can ensure getting attention, and awareness from viewers.”

               Mars, the company behind Snickers and the famous “you’re not you when you’re hungry” slogan, is taking an attention-grabbing risk by filming their commercial live during the third quarter of the football game. Allison Miazga-Bedrick, the Snickers brand director said, “every year we challenge ourselves to find new ways to satisfy our fans hunger for entertainment by delivering something new and breakthrough, and there is no better way than being the first to have a Super Bowl live ad.” Recently, live ads have been gaining traction on many TV channels. For example, in December, during the NBC broadcast of the musical “Hairspray Live” brands like Oreo, Toyota, and Reddi-Wip all used live ads to attract customers. Marketers and Advertisers are using live ads because it is an effective way to draw more attention and capitalize on excitement from TV or Facebook, and anything that happens in real time. This makes the audience feel like they’re not being forced to watch commercials, but are actually part of a captive live experience. In an effort to gain additional awareness and excitement from viewers, Mars is hosting a 36-hour live stream on their website and Facebook page which will begin Thursday before the game. Although not many details have been revealed about the 36-hour live stream, the brand did say that the stream will tie into the commercials western theme and be a fully integrated 360 campaign to reinforce the brand's connection to hunger satisfaction.

               Brands like Mars are working hard to appeal to customers. They are staying on top of the trends by tapping into the growing interest in live streaming, and the Super Bowl is the best platform for them to get in front of the largest number of customers. Hopefully these live ads run smoothly during the game; and more importantly, hopefully the Falcons take down the Patriots, because as attractive as Tom Brady is, I really don’t want to see him take home his fifth Super Bowl title.   

- Kate Moelis

To phone, or not to phone, that is the mealtime question...


To phone, or not to phone, that is the mealtime question...

A week or so ago a friend of mine sent me a video of Simon Sinek, an author and motivational speaker, discussing “The Millennial Question” (worth the time to watch). While Mr. Sinek brings up more than a handful of insightful, interesting, as well as disturbing points during the interview, I wanted to focus on one that directly impacts the culinary marketing business- mealtime. 

During the interview, Mr. Sinek talks about how living in a social media focused world impacts our ability to create deep, and meaningful relationships. He points out that dopamine is actually released into the body when we receive a text or a like during social media interactions; the same dopamine levels as when an alcoholic drinks or a gambler gambles.  This sudden chemical release is the root cause of physical addiction, which is why as a culture we are becoming more and more dependent on cellphones and social media.

How does this relate to the culinary world one might ask? Well, here is a question for you- If you go out to dinner, have a coffee with someone, or share some time at a table with family or friends, is your phone on the table? Do you take your phone out to look at texts or emails during a meal, instead of just being in the moment and actually enjoying your company? More than likely, if you are being honest with yourself, you answered yes (I know I did, but i'm working on changing my habits). Cellphones are changing mealtimes from a social experience to a social media one, which to Mr. Sinek’s point has a negative effect on relationships.

This has not gone without notice in the restaurant world, a few establishments have actually taken it upon themselves to try and shift behaviors, by offering guests incentives to put their phones away and focus on reconnecting with the people they are with. Most recently, Chick-fil-A created a Family Challenge, offering families free dessert if they put their phones in a cell phone “coop” for their entire meal.  Kudo’s to Chick-Fil-A for taking a proactive stance on this issue and actually coming up with a great incentive to keep people off their phones during mealtime.

So the question is, if we know we are a culture addicted to technology, what do we do and how does this change the way we, as marketers, look at mealtime?  How can brands play a role in helping to bring people and families back together over the dinner table? Will there be new apps/technology that help to do this (yes, I know that’s somewhat counter intuitive)? Or will we see more restaurants using incentives as a tactic?

Whatever the solution may be, mealtime is where relationships are built, memories are formed and lessons are learned, so please make the effort to put the phone down and enjoy the company you are with!

- Lonny Sweet, CEO


Why Trends Predictions Matter

Why Trends Predictions Matter

Closing out 2016 meant looking ahead at 2017 and trying to anticipate what it might bring. We do this each new year: reflect on what’s past and think about how it might impact what’s to come. It’s the time of year during which we ask ourselves what we could have done better, how we can turn over new leaves and how we can apply last year’s learnings to next year’s endeavors.

Thinking specifically about the world of food and culinary marketing, how can we apply the patterns of past years to determine what might transpire in the next one, and how can we leverage those learnings to make this new year the best one yet? Well, let’s look at a few of this year’s trends projections to see if we can figure it out…  

We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog delving into the minds of Gen Z. This is a generation raised on technology and immediate access to information. They’re poised to be the biggest food industry spender so it’s important to think of ways to grab (and hold!) their attention.

According to Forbes, “A new generation is about to take the food scene by storm, leaving Millennials with their constant search for what’s next in the dust. Gen Z is more likely to eat fresh home-cooked meals and healthier QSR offerings and think that cooking is cool. They prefer stove-top to microwave cooking and are more intuitive cooks. For them, the most ethnically diverse generation, ethnic foods are the norm. This 50 million strong generation – now 5 to 20 year old – have been shaped by the recession and terrorism and as a result are willing to work hard for a stable future. They are financially cautious and demand good value from the foods they consumer in and out of home. They hate corporate greed, don’t trust brands and demand transparency.”

It’s no surprise then that most major outlets are predicting that authenticity, quality and technology will continue to shape the food scape in 2017 – and it’s up to us to board this train fast. Some of the projected food trends leading us into 2017 include:

1)      Immediate access to information: People want more information, about food (and everything else) and as a result we are bombarded with too much content, fake food news and poorly designed recipes. Look for the new foodscape to be simple, stand out, engage and be multisensational – and all that comes through the next generation of food communication through gamification, edu-tainment and AVA triggered content. The digital foodscape is the language of the Millennials and Gen Z.

2)      Augmented Transparency (AT) – otherwise known as virtual reality: AT will change the way we gather information about foods in an immersive, engaging and empowering way. This technology will allow for multi-panel deep dives into the nutritional information, ingredients, sourcing all across the supply-chain to answer questions that shoppers have. From customized recipes, nutrition tours and educational events, AT will offer expert level knowledge on demand and filtered based on one’s personal interests and change the perspective of the food world into a 360-degree view.

3)      Silicon Valley & Food: It is estimated that over $1 billion has been invested in food startups and projects in 2016 alone. Why does Silicon Valley love food? Food meets the sustainability portfolio requirements for investing – and has the potential to make a positive impact on the world. High-tech food entrepreneurs like Rob Reinhart, CEO of Soylent, feels that “the food system is too complex and too fragile. Farms are inefficient due to climate and labor conditions,” and have a different model for a food brand or restaurant. For them the criteria includes having a social conscience, being health driven, solving a problem (life-hacking) and most importantly a mass-market orientation.

I think we’ll be talking a lot more about how to market to consumers through virtual reality experiences in the years to come. Audiences are demanding more immediate access to information and through technology, we’re able to bring it to them in unprecedented ways.

The team here at TCG is determined to stay ahead of the curve and think differently about making sure our clients’ messages are well received and that we’re building advocacy among target audiences. The world of technology is moving quickly and rather than resist, we’re celebrating this evolution by consistently thinking of new and innovative ways to leverage its possibilities. I’m eager to see what 2017 brings and couldn’t be more excited to ring in a new year that I’m certain will be more creative, inventive and ground breaking than the last. 

The Future of Food Festivals

Food festivals are hugely popular. Anyone willing to buy a ticket is granted access to an array of popular chefs, myriad cuisines, new flavors, learning sessions by renowned experts, etc. It’s a feast (literally) for the senses and brings together a concentrated group of like-minded consumers for at least two jam-packed days of indulgence. So, it would follow, that food festivals are also ideal places for brands to be present and show alignment with top talent, the latest trends and the early adopters who attend to seek out the hottest new flavors or experiences.   

But for consumers, is the high ticket cost worth the experience when all is said and done? Did they actually get to see their favorite culinary personalities? Did they try foods or beverages that were truly forward-thinking? Did they learn something new about the culinary world?

And, with the growing popularity of food festivals, comes overcrowding – both by attendees and brand sponsors clamoring for a piece of the attention. At a certain point, it stands to reason that brands would begin to wonder whether their high sponsorship cost is worth the 10’ x 10’ space they’re provided in one of the dozens of rows of tables that fill a foot-ball-field-sized tasting tent packed to the brim with ticket holders aimlessly grazing from sample to sample, without actually stopping to discern one bite, chef, restaurant, sponsor or booze brand from the next.

So as both brand marketing consultants and chef talent mangers, we have two challenges to consider:

  1. How can festivals improve the attendee experience so that they feel the high cost of their ticket is worth the experience?
  2. How can we ensure our brand sponsors are setting up activations unique enough to break through the clutter and stand apart from the rest?

These aren’t necessarily questions we have immediate answers for but we are constantly talking through various, creative, never-before-considered ways to work within the common festival structure to ensure our clients are achieving their goals and walking away feeling confident about their sponsorship ROI.

Food festivals have come pretty far, and they really do open up the culinary world for everyone to access. But when we try to be all things to all people, or slot in a sponsor or restaurant brand to satisfy every single palate, we move too far away from what these festivals are really about: Targeting true food enthusiasts and making high-quality, flavorful foods approachable for those who are curious to experience them.

There are myriad questions we should be asking about the festival format and whether it’s working as well as it can. And it may be! Or, when it comes to the sponsor experience, maybe it’s time to rethink things entirely. Tasting tents are hot, sweaty and exhausting for chefs and brands alike. The effort may not be worth the minimal and hard-to-track impact they’re making with potential new customers. But, what if there was a more intimate way to connect with early adopters or influencers? What if we could curate food shows for proven food enthusiasts by working with companies like OpenTable or Yelp to gather data around the most discerning and influential food-connected consumers?

Or, is it time to consider incorporating large-scale wow-factor food experiences into existing music or sporting events like Coachella or the PGA Tour? We already know customers are more likely to attend an event if high-quality food (or their favorite chef) will be present. So should we move away from food-only festivals and consider combining them with other aspects of pop-culture? Consumers aren’t one-dimensional, so perhaps our activations shouldn’t be either.

These are the questions we are constantly asking of ourselves and of our industry. At The Connect Group, brand and consumer experience is always top-of-mind. Our ideas are unique because we understand that each brand has a different story to tell and a different potential customer to reach. And the ways those customers connect to food, or through food, are vastly varied and different. It’s our job to understand these differences, but at the end of the day, the commonality is that everyone eats. Everyone is food-connected and can be reached through that lens.

We continue to push boundaries, ask questions and collaborate with our festival, brand and chef partners to brainstorm bigger, better approaches with the goal of one day completely revolutionizing this industry – program by program, sip by sip and bite by bite.  

30 Seconds to Market

30 seconds. That’s all the time BuzzFeed needs to get more than a million viewers hooked. BuzzFeed’s Tasty videos are taking over our Facebook News Feeds, and proving to be a lesson on how multi-channel marketing is growing. These “snack-sized” videos offer quick, fun recipe tutorials (typically from an overhead angle) featuring people from all over the world creating dishes like cheese-stuffed mashed potatoes (a video that received about 72 million views).

Tasty is barely a year old but has already accumulated more than 52 million likes and 2.2 billion views on Facebook. So what’s the magic formula that’s making these cooking tutorials go viral so consistently? There are two things setting Tasty apart from the rest: Its platform and a niche advantage.

First of all, Tasty tutorials are created specifically for the platform of Facebook. They are highly shareable, and optimize Facebook’s algorithms, which favor anything that keeps people on Facebook longer. BuzzFeed figured out the best way to take advantage of Facebook’s auto-play videos by making Tasty videos fast-motion and brief so viewers actually want to watch the entire film.

Secondly, Buzzfeed has worked pretty hard to hone and target specific audiences, proving that niche content can be just as successful as sharing content en mass.

“We’ve looked at niche audiences and very specific topics and it spreads from there,” Frank Cooper BuzzFeed’s chief marketer said in a recent article. Buzzfeed has even started to create new branches for Tasty including, for example, Proper Tasty, which only features British recipes, making the target audience even smaller, but more focused and engaged.

BuzzFeed’s Tasty videos are proof that “foodie” channels are blowing up. By working within its ideal platform (Facebook) and having a keen understanding of its target audience, Tasty has ensured that its videos will continue to dominate the web. It’s no surprise considering consumers are hungrier than ever for food knowledge and culinary inspiration.

Not only is the Tasty marketing platform genius, it is also shining new light on the many ways consumers can work with their favorite ingredients to create delicious dishes in (what feels like) minutes. In fact, in a recent article about how college students interact with Tasty, an undergraduate from Seton Hall University said she “…loves watching these short videos for cooking inspiration,” and “…has tried many of the videos, but my favorite is the cheesy bacon egg cups.” This is pretty great news for ingredient brands looking to target their millennial buyer.