2019 MOY: Jackson Hitchon sweetens Hershey

The confectionery brand's marketer shows that boldness is for the brave in wild and wacky consumer-centric campaigns.

Jackson Hitchon Strat Mag MOY

This week, strategy is rolling out the profiles of the 2019 Marketers of the Year. Check out all of the stories as they are published here.

This story originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of strategy.

If you have Hershey on the brain lately, you can blame Jackson Hitchon.

Since 2017, the confectionery brand’s senior director of marketing has worked overtime to give the company a fresh approach. It’s one that targets younger audiences with campaigns that tap into the modern-day zeitgeist: think streaming services, space travel, cannabis, and Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR).

Under Hitchon’s leadership, in 2019, Hershey became the #1 confectionary brand in Canada, released a feature-length film, and played in the cannabis-adjacent space, solidifying a strategy that targets millennial and Gen Z snackers.

During his early days with the company in 2012, Hitchon spent time on the sales side, leading shopper marketing efforts that were driven by consumer insights. That previous work experience allowed him to have a “greater understanding of how to motivate and how to rally an organization around marketing,” he says. And today, Hitchon says he’s “obsessed with consumer-centric strategies.”

Reese, for example, spends “a ton of time talking to Canadians about their snacking habits… [to] get a true idea of what makes people tick and how to connect with what matters to them,” he says.
It was from those conversations that Hitchon decided to create a feature-length ASMR film – Reese The Movie: A Movie About Reese – and release it on Crave. Alongside Toronto’s Anomaly, his team discovered that consumers have their own “Reese ritual,” a unique way of enjoying the iconic chocolate and peanut butter treat.

Reese The Movie is an 82-minute film featuring five of YouTube’s top ASMR creators showing how they enjoy eating a Reese. It’s so far garnered over two million views on YouTube and an average view time of more than five minutes. “Compared to a landscape with six-second bumpers and forced views for 15-second online videos, five minutes of uninterrupted consumer engagement is huge,” Hitchon says.

The insight around snacking rituals also sparked the brand’s “Nothing Else is Reese” campaign in June — a tagline that captures consumer’s love of slowly peeling off Reese’s paper shell before digging in.

“Once you have an insight, you can take bold steps off the bat and know that the consumer is going to come along with you,” Hitchon says.

Continuing on its path to connect with younger snackers, Hitchon also worked with Anomaly to bring the Oh Henry! brand into conversations around Canada’s historic legalization of cannabis in 2018, sparking the creation of the “Oh Henry! 4:25” chocolate bar.

“We determined that, for the longevity and the growth of the brand, we really needed to target younger… And as we were having these conversations, the agency found that there’s a cultural movement around cannabis legalization,” he says of the limited edition bar, which contains extra peanut protein for when the munchies hit five minutes past 4:20.

Hershey hasn’t always been so bold, though. Prior to Hitchon taking on his role, he says the brand had a tendency to stay inside the lines, to a fault. “I would say that we were guilty of playing it safe,” he admits, adding that the key to breaking through is to take risks. “And that doesn’t mean being controversial every time,” he clarifies, “but it does mean understanding your consumer and pushing yourself to connect with them in an inventive way that isn’t done by everybody else.”

The risk of being bold and breaking the rules isn’t lost on Hitchon. “There’s a little bit of nervous energy before you get consumer [feedback on a campaign]. And sure enough you’ll hit some naysayers, but because it’s grounded in a consumer insight, the overwhelming response [is] positive.”

Nothing says “bold and breakthrough” quite like sending your product into space.

When Reese launched its first new product since 1977, it took a nostalgic approach and connected the new Reese’s Pieces Peanut to E.T.

RPP_SpaceIn the film, the alien character’s favourite snack was the Reese’s Pieces and so to get him to “try” the new candy, the brand created the “Extra-Terrestrial Sampling Program,” shooting a sample display into space. The award-winning stunt garnered 96 million media impressions and blasted past initial sales targets by 282%.

According to Anomaly partner and ECD, Pete Breton, one word to describe Hitchon is “collaborative.”

“Part of the mandate when Anomaly started working with Hershey was to start moving the work away from more traditional confectionery food advertising and more towards boundary-pushing work – and Hitchon has been the shepherd, recognizing the ideas and pulling them forward with the agency,” says Breton.

According to Hitchon, some of its marketing is part of the brand’s strategy to target “eating occasions” that are strongly associated with younger consumers. “We seek to reach not just loyalists who love us, but actually making sure that we are top-of-mind for all Canadians,” he says. “So we push ourselves to extend that reach. We try to get into new occasions.”

With a portfolio of brands that list more than 50 retail products, including Cookies ‘n’ Creme, Chipits, Kisses and S’mores, Hitchon says Hershey’s dominates several occasions like baking with Hershey’s Chipits and S’mores. However, the brand didn’t always get credit, with some consumers unaware of the breadth of Hershey’s products.

This required all of the brands and SKUs to be pulled together under one umbrella, with Hershey launching the “Life is Sweet” masterbrand platform in March this year.

Having been around for over 100 years, Hitchon says the Hershey’s brand has “incredibly high awareness,” but it needed to improve consumer’s understanding of what the brand stands for.
Under the “Life is Sweet” umbrella, the brand launched spots that tap into “sweet” moments such as baking cookies with grandma or sitting by the fire at camp.

This more emotional approach came shining through in the brand’s “Dad Jokes” spot, which featured a father and son, who are both deaf, signing jokes while having a Hershey’s treat. The spot, which has garnered over 1.3 million views to date, speaks to the success of the strategy.

“The ‘Life is Sweet’ campaign drives brand love by making consumers aware of its greater beliefs and purpose, things we know are important and relevant to our target,” he says. Although admittedly a simple strategy, Hitchon adds it’s about “realizing how many occasions we have to celebrate and to be happy throughout the day.”