Easy Mac stirs up awareness

Reality Check tests advertising creative against a random sample of 300 consumers to determine, among other things, whether they liked the commercial, whether they could identify the sponsor, whether they understood the message and whether, after seeing the spot, they'd be...

Reality Check tests advertising creative against a random sample of 300 consumers to determine, among other things, whether they liked the commercial, whether they could identify the sponsor, whether they understood the message and whether, after seeing the spot, they’d be more likely to buy the brand advertised. The survey is carried out by Impact Research on a spot of Strategy’s choice. Kathleen Deslauriers, Impact’s general manager in Toronto, provides the analysis.

Advertiser: Kraft Foods

Product: Easy Mac

Commercial: ‘Dog Gone Girl’

Tagline: ‘Gotta be KD’

Description: At the start of the commercial, a man unlocks the door to his apartment while holding a white plastic grocery bag. He enters the flat and says, ‘Hey Cheryl, you’ll never guess what I found at the store’, while he looks around. Background music begins to play, as he notices that the apartment is deserted and all the furniture is gone. In fact, all that is left is his dog, Buddy, who is lying in the middle of the floor next to his dish. The man asks, ‘Buddy, where’s Cheryl?’

As he reaches the kitchen, the man realizes that it has also been emptied. He shrugs his shoulders, enters the kitchen, pulls a package out of the grocery bag and places it on the counter. Upon opening the cupboard, he sees that the dishes are gone as well. He sighs, lowers his head, spots the dog’s dish, and raises an eyebrow.

The next shot shows the dog’s bowl on the counter. The man is preparing his meal in the dish. He then places the dish in the microwave. When the food is ready, the man is shown holding the dog’s dish up to his face while he notices that he does not have a fork.

As an announcer begins speaking, the man looks around and finds a fork sticking out of the wall, piercing a picture of him. He pulls the fork from the wall and starts to eat.

The commercial ends with a shot of the product’s package and a close-up of the digital screen on the microwave.

How the test commercial fared:

‘Dog Gone Girl’ performed extremely well on many of the variables measured.

Given the unique way of demonstrating the product’s convenience under rather extreme circumstances, it comes as no surprise that the commercial reached 61% of the sample. In comparison to our norms, if the execution had been supported by 1,000 GRPs at the time of testing, it should have reached 40%. Even at 1,500 GRPs, the spot still surpasses the norm by 16 points.

Such high reach likely explains why Kraft Dinner and Easy Mac obtained 26% and 2% respectively for top-of-mind brand awareness in the category of dry packaged dinners. Further proof comes from the fact that top-of-mind awareness of television commercials in the category is pegged at an astonishing 40% for Kraft Dinner and 9% for Easy Mac.

Given the longevity of the original Kraft Dinner on the market, it is not surprising that this product obtains much higher brand and advertising awareness than Easy Mac. As well, we think that, in the public’s mind, the product is simply Kraft Macaroni & Cheese that one can microwave.

This relative confusion in the brand name is clearly evident in the brand linkage results: 52% of those reached by ‘Dog Gone Girl’ gave Kraft Dinner as their answer, followed by 17% who named Easy Mac. If we consider both responses as correct, then the combined brand linkage score of 69% is by far superior to our 40% norm at 1,500 GRPs.

We must admit that we were surprised by the high appreciation score: 82% of respondents liked the commercial very much or somewhat, which compares favourably to the 74% standard.

Likely targeting a younger crowd, we thought that the use of the dog’s dish for the preparation and consumption of Easy Mac would be a bit disturbing for some older people. However, there is only an eight-point spread between 18- to 34-year-olds and 35- to 64-year-olds (86% versus 78%), which is not statistically significant. People obviously appreciated the execution’s humour as well as the interaction between the male character and the dog. Likely, some consumers could directly or indirectly relate to the situation depicted.

With 48%, the execution is on par with our 45-50% rule of thumb with respect to the ‘astute’ message comprehension score. However, as was the case with the media plan, the reader must keep in mind that the advertiser has not shared with us the specific communications objectives. We are only guessing. Thus, we could have been somewhat strict in judging what messages are ‘astute’.

With 11%, the top-box score for purchase intent is a bit low in comparison to our 15-20% rule of thumb. This might stem from several factors: Consumers might prefer traditionally cooked Kraft Dinner, do not see the need for Easy Mac, or want to wait for positive word-of-mouth.

All in all, Easy Mac is a relatively new product that probably needs some more time to be accepted by the public.

Methodology: From Jan. 18-25, Impact Research interviewed 303 Toronto residents over the telephone about ‘Dog Gone Girl.’ Within the sample, there was an even split according to sex and, within each gender group, equal representation of two age brackets: 18-34 years and 35-64 years. The maximum margin of error is plus or minus 5.6% at a 95% level of confidence.

After measuring unaided brand and advertising awareness, we prompted recall by describing the visuals in detail.

If the consumer recalled seeing the commercial as described, we considered him or her ‘reached’ and we then continued the interview to assess other variables such as sponsor identification, message comprehension, appreciation, and purchase intent.

To accurately gauge brand linkage, we did not include the name of the sponsor or the product in the commercial’s description. As well, we did not reveal any message cues or the tagline. This allowed us to assess message comprehension after exposure to the execution in ‘real life.’

Meat and plant-based sales are both strong at Maple Leaf

Both priority areas performed well in the company's full-year results, helped by a boost in marketing for new products.
Maples Leaf All Natural 4

Maple Leaf Foods reported higher Q4 and full-year 2020 sales, driven by its sustainable meats and plant-based proteins. 

The CPG co. reported quarterly sales of $1.13 billion, up from $1.02 billion for Q4 2019, as well as net earnings of $25.4 million, compared to $17.5 million for the same period the year prior (an increase of 45.2%).

For full fiscal 2020, the company reported a total increase of 9.2% in sales, driven by what it says is “strong growth in both the meat and plant protein groups.”

“We have repositioned our portfolio towards two high-growth categories now representing 20% of our annual sales generating a compounded growth rate in excess of 25% over the last three years,” says Michael McCain, the company’s president and CEO.

Meat protein group sales  comprised of prepared meats, ready-to-cook and ready-to-serve meals, snack kits, value-added fresh pork and poultry products that are sold to retail, foodservice and industrial channels, and agricultural operations  grew 11.3% for the quarter. 

Meanwhile, sales of plant protein products  refrigerated plant protein brands such as Lightlife and Field Roast, premium grain-based protein, and vegan cheese products sold to retail, foodservice and industrial channels  was up 5.5% over the same period. 

Sales growth for its meat portfolio was driven by “a favourable mix-shift towards sustainable meats and branded products,” but also growth in exports to Asian markets, and pricing actions implemented to mitigate inflation and other structural cost increases, according to the company. Strong demand in the retail channel was offset by lower volume in foodservice as a result of COVID-19.

For its plant-based offerings, sales for 2020 were $210.8 million compared to $176.4 million last year, representing a growth of 19.5%, or 18.1% after excluding the impacts of foreign exchange. The segment was driven by expanded distribution of new products, continued volume increases in its existing portfolio, and pricing actions implemented to mitigate inflation and other structural cost increases.

SG&A expenses totalled $144 million for the plant group alone in 2020, with investments focused on advertising, promotion and marketing to build awareness, as well as supporting brand renovation and new product innovation. SG&A for meat proteins were $346.6 million for the full year, and the company says it expects SG&A levels and marketing investment in 2021 to be largely in line with where they were in 2020.

The company, which in 2019 announced it had gone carbon neutral, says it’s amplifying this commitment while “focusing on eliminating waste in any resources it consumes, including food, energy, water, packaging, and time.”