The McCain makeover

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. McCain Foods, the Florenceville, N.B.-based frozen food company would certainly be thought to subscribe to that.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. McCain Foods, the Florenceville, N.B.-based frozen food company would certainly be thought to subscribe to that.

Its rather folksy, unfussy ads have come to define the brand but for years have had many in the broader marketing community scratching their heads. Still, no one can question McCain’s effectiveness: $6.4 billion in global sales for 2003 and undeniably high brand recognition among Canadians and its core target – moms 29 to 43 years old.

But it seems the privately-owned company built on frozen french fries is adopting another old adage: nothing ventured, nothing gained, as it gears up for some of the most aggressive marketing overhauls and brand repositioning undergone in years. And leading the marketing shake-up is one-time aspiring politician-turned-marketer Andrew Young.

Young, 34, who became the company’s director of retail marketing a year and a half ago, says the shift is part of an overall directional change necessitated by the changing times.

‘Our old model of advertising certainly is not as effective as it used to be because of all the factors that are out there – proliferation of TV channels and the time-strapped consumer who isn’t watching commercials unless they’re entertained,’ he says. ‘Just saying the brand McCain six and a half times within a commercial doesn’t do it anymore.’

With new thinking wafting throughout McCain offices, it was easy enough, says Young, to convince the higher-ups to sign on Newfoundland’s Target Marketing to revamp one of the company’s brands. But it was still a considerable leap for a company that had never in its 48 years had an AOR, choosing instead to rely on a team of writers and a production house to churn out its ads (almost exclusively for TV).

Just last month Target’s new brand positioning for the Crescendo line of frozen pizzas was unveiled with two TV spots in French and English. Three billboard executions were also unveiled this month in major centres across the country over 13 weeks.

‘This is a new medium for us,’ Young admits. ‘We’ve done some small [executions] in the past, but outdoor is definitely new.’ The idea, of course, is to complement the TV spots and help create a buzz for the brand, Young adds.

They’ve also abandoned the ‘Who can tell it from takeout’ tagline conceding that Kraft’s Delissio, though launched later and marketed with the very similar ‘It’s not delivery, it’s Delissio,’ owns that consumer mind space.

To retune the branding, says Laurelyn Priestley, Target’s director of account management, the agency was brought in last summer and conducted extensive cross-Canada consumer research that showed the deep influence children have on household purchase decisions.

‘Frozen pizza is a teen-oriented product and traditionally McCain has been targeting moms, the principal grocery shopper. That’s shown in the approaches that they’ve taken,’ she says. ‘They’re a mainstream grocery brand and have been a little less contemporary and a little less seen by teens as being cool.’

The brand now targets 13- to 17-year-olds and to up said cool factor, uses the ‘Nothing rises like a Crescendo’ pitch. The commercials, called ‘Tan Lines,’ poke fun at teens and young adults so marveled by watching the pizza crust rise as it bakes, that they walk away proudly sporting oven-window-shaped tans on their faces. ‘They are looking to resonate more and are very open to our input on how to do that from a strategic standpoint and doing something a little bit different creatively,’ says Priestley.

A lot of that dare-to-be-different moxie has come from Young, she says. ‘Andrew helped to sell it through to senior management at McCain. He was very hot on the concept. He recognized it from the initial presentation as being a big idea with long-term potential and breaking the mould from previous work.’

‘The business is doing well,’ she adds, ‘but he wants to ensure that the brand likeability is better with all their targets. He’s been instrumental in wanting to shake things up.’

Beyond pizza, also under Young’s watch are all the brands found in grocery stores, everything from frozen juices to desserts. Up next is the launch of the Zwak line (a name that kids in focus groups associated with fun and action), which is a complete re-branding of McCain drinking boxes. This time the brand will target children ages six to 12, with TV spots on kid-centric stations YTV and Teletoon starting in February.

They’re also planning a Web site, updated every week, and Web-based games and comic books to be launched in the spring. The spots, created by Toronto’s Sonar Group, will be animated and tie into the updated packaging.

And although tight lipped about it, Young says in the next six months there are plans to rejig marketing for other products, introduce some new ones, expand marketing tactics and shift brand positioning. So will someone be a little busy over the next few months? ‘That’s for sure,’ he says laughing. But given his background it’s nothing new for Young.

After graduating with an MBA from Newfoundland’s Memorial University in 1996, Young spent four years at McCain’s as a senior project manager for its pizza line, then it was on to a sales position with the company in Ontario where after eight months he was promoted to director of sales. But before doing his MBA, Young was on a somewhat more righteous path, pursing a career as a politician and serving as a special assistant to then deputy prime minister Donald Mazankowski. Among his tasks was reporting about Atlantic issues. So what happened to life as a diplomat? ‘It’s something that’s always interested me, still does,’ he says, ‘…but you can’t make any money in politics,’ he says with a chuckle.