Oreo: Twist, lick and dunk

How did Oreo become the best-selling cookie of the 20th century? An unbeatable marriage of chocolate and vanilla, plus some clever marketing and a little thing called 'the ritual.' As the iconic sandwich cookie marks its 60th year in Canada, we look back at its history.

There are a number of ways to consume an Oreo, and fans of the famous cookie, who gobble up approximately 500 million of them in Canada every year – apparently enough to form a stack 567 times higher than Mount Everest (although we haven’t tried it) – are divided as to which is the ideal way to appreciate the two-toned treats. Some separate its chocolate wafers and peel off the vanilla icing with their teeth before tackling the cookie part. Others prefer to lick the filling off. And then there are the biters who avoid the deconstruction process altogether, and the speed eaters who pop the whole thing in their mouths.

The ‘ritual’ of eating the Oreo has helped set it apart from other, single-layer, single-textured, monochromatic cookies. Over the decades, Oreo’s marketers – now Toronto-based Kraft Canada – have capitalized on that with a number of slogans and spots that played on the theme, like ‘Twist to open,’ ‘Some disassembly required’ and the recent ‘Diner’ TV spot, which features a child and an older woman racing to the dunk stage.

‘Our recent campaigns celebrate the Oreo ritual, but ‘Diner’ takes it to new heights with the lick race,’ says Kristi Murl, who has been Oreo brand manager for two months. ‘Oreo is the brand that lets people connect in simple ways, and over the years a lot of the marketing initiatives have supported that. It’s the connection that people have with the brand – the moments it creates when people are twisting, licking and dunking.’

Some of the Oreo campaigns, including ‘Diner,’ originate in the U.S., but others are dreamed up in Canada by AOR Draftfcb, which has worked on the brand since 1987. (Kraft Canada also works with a number of other agencies, including Starcom MediaVest, BzzAgent, Mackenzie Trade, Davis Design Partners, Edelman and Pierce Promotions.) Among the Canadian efforts are last year’s ‘Flavours’ series of half-page print ads featuring two Mint Creme Oreos sitting on a pillow, a Chocolate Creme Oreo posing as a chocolate cake and a straw sticking out of a Strawberry Milkshake Oreo. ‘The insight was that Oreo has a distinctive form,’ says Draftfcb CCO Robin Heisey, ‘so how could we interpret the different flavours in the language of Oreo?’

And for the launch of Golden Oreo in 2005, the agency created a print campaign with the tagline ‘Surprise Your Milk’ and an accompanying TV spot featuring one child telling another, ‘When I was your age, Oreos were chocolate.’

‘I thought the ‘When I Was Your Age’ ad got the Golden Oreo news out there in a way that really made sense for the brand,’ says Draftfcb group account director Liz Ashworth. ‘At that point there had never been a different-coloured cookie base, and referring to the Oreo ritual with milk made it clear that we were doing something new.’

Oreo existed in its classic creme sandwich cookie format until the ’80s, when a number of product innovations were introduced, including Double Stuf, Chocolaty Covered and Baking Crumbs, for making cakes, pie crusts and other variations (see sidebar).

‘We’re always looking for new varieties for Oreo,’ says Murl. ‘We’ve had some great limited-edition fun packs for the holidays with various coloured creams. And in 1992 we brought out the Mini version.

‘We do product testing with consumers so that whenever we’re launching new products, we ensure they meet or exceed expectations in terms of taste and colour,’ she adds. ‘We know, for instance, that consumers are constantly looking for convenience, and we are using individually wrapped portable packs for some new products.’

The latest product, timed to celebrate the brand’s 60th year in Canada, takes the Oreo theme into a different format. ‘Some of the more recent innovations have extended beyond the cookie jar,’ says Murl. ‘Last year we introduced Oreo Waferstix, which have been really successful. And this year our big effort to celebrate Oreo’s 60th birthday was to launch Oreo Cakesters. We thought, ‘What better way to celebrate a birthday than with a moist, rich snack cake that tastes like an Oreo?”

The launch of the Cakester, which comes in three flavours (Original, Chocolate Cream and Golden), is being supported by a campaign that includes instore sampling and merchandising programs, print and TV ads. ”Chest Hair’ is one that opens in a camp cafeteria, where one of the kids has his first Oreo Cakester,’ explains Murl. ‘The exciting news travels around the cafeteria via the old game of broken telephone, and the last listener gets a message that the kid has got his first chest hair. Then someone corrects him and all the kids get really excited about the Cakester.’

Timeline

1949-1959
Christie, Brown & Co. introduces Christie’s Oreo Creme Sandwich cookies into Canada in 1949. Besides the Oreo’s taste, which has already won it widespread popularity in the U.S., the marketing emphasis is on the use of high-quality ingredients. A print ad from 1958, for instance, boasts that the finest ‘pure cocoa from plantations of West Africa’ is used in its manufacturing process.

1960-1969
In 1965, Oreos start being packaged in a cardboard carton as well as cellophane bags and single-serve packets. Oreos are part of a Christie’s campaign whose slogan is ‘Get the cookies baked with Cookie Jar Goodness by Christie’s – the biscuit people.’

1970-1979
In 1974, the Oreo Creme Sandwich is renamed the Oreo Chocolate Sandwich cookie, and the slogan ‘Mr. Christie, you make good cookies’ debuts.

1980-1989
New products are introduced, including Oreo Double Stuf cookies (with twice the amount of filling) in 1985 and Chocolaty Covered Oreos and Oreo Baking Crumbs in 1988.

1990-1999
A 1993 booklet from Christie states, ‘Over 500 million Oreo cookies are eaten every year in Canada alone. That’s enough to form a stack 567 times higher than Mount Everest!’
The early ’90s bring a slew of variations on the Oreo theme, starting with the Oreo Summer Fun Pack – a limited-edition package of Oreos with bright pink, yellow, green and orange filling. The Summer Fun Pack is so successful in its 1990 debut – with more than 900,000 sold in three weeks – that it’s brought back the next year.
In fall 1991, special holiday-season Winter White Oreos are introduced, and in 1992 both Mini Oreos and Halloween Oreos with orange filling make their debuts. In 1993, Christie/Nabisco teams up with Ault Dairies to produce a line of ice cream products including chocolate and vanilla Oreo flavours, plus Oreo ice cream sandwiches.

2000-2008
Nabisco merges with Kraft Foods in 2000. The explosion in new Oreo products continues with Oreo Brownies and Uh-Oh Oreos, which reverse the format by putting chocolate filling between vanilla wafers (2003), Reduced Fat Oreos, with zero grams of trans fat (2004), Golden Oreos (2005) and Oreo WaferStix (2007). And this year, since you need cake to celebrate your 60th, three flavours of Oreo Cakesters snack cakes are launched.