Hiding the truth, and how to get away with it

by Michael Douglass (student id: Domic)

One major food manufacturer decided to change the recipe of one of its iconic products macaroni and cheese, and tell customers about it… 50 million sales later.

Kraft Mac and Cheese ad

“We’d invite you to try it, but you already have”. Kraft’s release of its new mac and cheese recipe .

While not comparable to the Volkswagen vehicle emissions deception (and less likely to result in a class action lawsuit), Kraft Heinz had real concerns about changing the recipe of a popular product.

Kraft’s answer was to let the consumer eat the new recipe for a while before telling them of the change. In fact, they sold 50 million boxes of the product before mentioning it.

Greg Guidotti of Kraft Heinz reported that the strategy they used to eventually release the news to consumers (which utilised television, online documentary-style video, digital display ads, television personalities, sponsored online promotions, print media ads, social media, and giveaways) “probably took 5-times more work”.[i]

So why all the fuss?

The biggest fear held by Kraft was that customers would not like the new recipe as much as the old recipe, simply because it had changed.

David Just, a professor of behavioural economics at Cornell University said, “Whenever you have labels like ‘healthier’ or ‘reformulated,’ people are looking for the absence of a taste they really like.”[ii]

But a dislike for the new taste may not have been the key concern.

In 1985, despite the overwhelming majority of 200,000 blind test subjects choosing the new taste of Coke over Pepsi and “old Coke”, new Coke was pulled from the shelves within 3 months. This “flop” was not due to taste, but due to the other factors associated with Coke, Coke’s identity, and the self-perceived identities of those who loyally drunk Coke[iii].

Mac and cheese is the type of product that has a lot of emotion associated with it.

While it could be described as a low involvement purchase, and one that is purchased for pure convenience, it has none-the-less attained iconic status amongst consumers, with associations of nostalgia and loyalty connected to it[iv].

By changing the recipe, what was a habit purchase can suddenly raise emotions such as nostalgia. As a result, the consumer’s level of care in the purchase may not be any greater than it was prior, but their buying decision could re-manifest. Do they resent the change? Do they perceive a poorer tasting product? Do they still identify with this product?

If a brand can be described as “a promise”[v], did Kraft lie?

Kraft’s strategy since releasing news of the new recipe has been to highlight the fact that they actually said nothing about it. Ads include tag lines such as “We’d invite you to try it, but you already have”.

Figure 1 “We’d invite you to try it, but you already have”. Kraft’s release of its new mac and cheese recipe[vi].

This was on advice from the marketing group involved in the campaign that believed the best way to make people accepting of the change, was to show them that they have already experienced the change, and their relationship with the product had stayed the same.

The reasons to change the recipe were a reaction to a more health conscious consumer, especially those concerned with artificial preservatives, flavours and dyes.[vii]

A college student may see mac and cheese as a staple, but once they transition to responsible parents, may not bring mac and cheese along for that part of the journey.

Making a healthier recipe may help mac and cheese to remain a staple for a wider cross-section of consumers.

To see Kraft’s Mac and Cheese promotion in action, visit Kraft Mac and Cheese.

[i] New York Times/Martha C. White. 2016. Kraft Reveals Revamped Mac and Cheese, 50 Million Boxes Later. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/21/business/media/kraft-reveals-revamped-mac-and-cheese-50-million-boxes-later.html?_r=0. [Accessed 04 April 16].

[ii] New York Times/Martha C. White. 2016. Kraft Reveals Revamped Mac and Cheese, 50 Million Boxes Later. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/21/business/media/kraft-reveals-revamped-mac-and-cheese-50-million-boxes-later.html?_r=0. [Accessed 04 April 16].
[iii] Business 2 Community/Joe Benjamin. 2015. Market Research Fail: How New Coke Became the Worst Flub of All Time. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.business2community.com/consumer-marketing/market-research-fail-new-coke-became-worst-flub-time-01256904#REBfx7L4H6D1DzIW.97. [Accessed 01 April 16].
[iv] Quartz/Deena Shanker. 2015. Kraft Mac & Cheese’s iconic blazing orange is going natural. [ONLINE] Available at: http://qz.com/387479/kraft-mac-cheeses-iconic-blazing-orange-is-going-natural/. [Accessed 03 April 16].
[v] Forbes/Lois Geller. 2012. Why A Brand Matters. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/loisgeller/2012/05/23/a-brand-is-a-specialized/#2b54908a504a. [Accessed 03 April 16].
[vi] Courtesy of New York Times website, (2016), Unknown [ONLINE]. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/21/business/media/kraft-reveals-revamped-mac-and-cheese-50-million-boxes-later.html?_r=0 [Accessed 04 April 16].
[vii] Campaign/Dave Trott. 2016. A view from Dave Trott: When to keep quiet Read more at http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/view-dave-trott-when-keep-quiet/1388318#TrxuxU1xUVLSMjLj.99. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/view-dave-trott-when-keep-quiet/1388318. [Accessed 03 April 16].

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