Cheestrings trades on millennial nostalgia in its new platform

A stunt soliciting schoolyard-like swaps is just the beginning for the new approach Black Diamond is taking to marketing the "top-tier" snack.

When Black Diamond decided to revisit the way it markets one of its most popular snack products, it settled on a very simple message: You can’t put a value on a snack this good.

The new platform for Cheestrings, “Keep It Cheesy,” was developed with agency Broken Heart Love Affair (BHLA) and launched earlier this month with a giant billboard placement in Toronto’s Yonge and Dundas Square. The billboard was deliberately designed to look like an online marketplace posting soliciting trade offers for a single Cheestring, and it was a big hit, bringing in more than 1,000 offers and earning hundreds of millions of impressions.

The stunt was the first step in a broader campaign that includes a TV spot, OLV, social and further OOH. It was designed to appeal to an audience of millennial professionals who might recall trying to trade up their box of raisins or other snack food for Cheestrings in the school cafeteria when they were kids, but in a way that would be familiar to their modern lives.

“We came at this activation wanting it to be deeply rooted in context,” Enrique Larez, marketing director for Black Diamond, tells strategy. “These days, everybody trades and sells things on Facebook Marketplace, Kijiji and Craigslist. So we wanted this to be something everyone could recognize.”

“We tried to consciously keep it as low-fi as we could and make it a little rough around the edges, because that’s what people respond to. The more polished things are, sometimes, the more people back away from them,” adds Spencer Ryan, CD at BHLA. “We wanted to give them an excuse to let their inner kid out again.”

The offers were wide-ranging, including such valuables as a Shaquille O’Neal rookie card, a golden gorilla statue and a yacht. The brand didn’t accept any of the trades – well, almost any of them. This was a deliberate strategy, designed to communicate that “nothing is good enough for the Cheestring,” says Ryan.

“Someone offered dinner with their mom, which was a very good offer,” adds Jordan Hamer, also a CD with BHLA, who worked with Ryan on the campaign. “I called that one in myself.”

As with the billboard, the TV campaign is also built around the theme of trading, although its ties to the sort of cafeteria lunch trades millennials would have made as kids are a lot clearer. In it, a woman opens a package of Cheestrings and is offered everything from an ant farm to Cthulhu, the World Eater in trade for her snack. She ultimately chooses to stick with the Cheestring.

The campaign is a departure from the traditional marketing for Cheestrings, which generally focuses on its mascot, Cheesy. While there is a lot of equity in the mascot, which will remain on the product’s packaging and still be featured in some way in future marketing, Larez says “the brand was due for a refresh” that would help it reach beyond its traditional core demographic of parents and their children.

“We are also now reaching out to millennials who grew up with Cheestrings,” he explains.

The campaign will remain in market throughout the year, with “different variations” continuing to roll out into 2023, Larez says.

“We’re going to keep coming out with new executions, keep people guessing and just try to have fun with it while we break through the noise,” says Hamer.