Butterball Takes A Page From YouTube For Holiday

A large poultry company might not seem the obvious facilitator of family togetherness, nor its Web site a place one would visit to exchange video messages with distant relatives. But this Thanksgiving season, Butterball is launching the first piece of a campaign that does just that.

The effort, from Leo Burnett in Chicago, begins with an eight-spot TV campaign, breaking today, that features homemade messages sent to distant family members. One shows two children wishing their grandparents a happy Thanksgiving while jumping on a couch. “Ian and Anna’s message is brought to you by Butterball,” reads copy at the end of the spot. Another shows a young woman named Amy who has relocated to Los Angeles and is sending exuberant kisses to her family.

“We gave away airtime to let people do what they’re doing on YouTube and MySpace,” said Josh Denberg, group creative director at the Publicis agency. “This felt like a really interesting way to combine what’s going on [online] with what we wanted to do.”

Participants are notified when and where the videos are airing, so they can tell the intended recipients when and where to get their message.

In addition to appearing on TV, the spots, plus a few other home videos, will be available at Butterball.com (no reference to that availability is made during the commercials). While the company has no specific plans to drive traffic to the Web site, Butterball hopes to eventually turn the site into a place for people to upload video messages to their loved ones, Denberg said, adding that financial, technological and time constraints prevented the possibility of getting that all together by this Thanksgiving.

The idea emerged from the brief that Butterball was “about bringing families together,” combined with the trend of people posting video messages online, said Denberg.

The comfort and ease people have found creating home-made video for sites like YouTube facilitated the process, though the first round of the campaign was completed in a decidedly low-tech way. To get the videos, the agency placed classified ads in college and military publications, and on family-oriented Web sites. The ads asked people who wanted to be in a Butterball commercial to send 22-second videotaped messages for families and loved ones to a post office box.

Between mid-September and mid-October, the agency received about 1,000 videos in the mail. Denberg and co-GCD Paul Hirsch selected messages that felt “authentic,” meaning non-commercial and non-scripted.

“The best ones were honest,” Hirsch said. “We bagged a few because they talked about how great Butterball is.”

The company, which recently changed ownership, will spend ” a little more than $1 million on the three-week effort,” according to Dick Sarvas, gm for Butterball.

Spending on the brand has languished over the last two years, with less than $1 million spent in total 2004, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus. (By comparison, more than half of Hormel’s competing brand, Jennie-O’s $7 million in spending came during November, according to Nielsen). In 2003—the most recent year of significant spending—Butterball recorded nearly $7 million in ad spending, a third of which came during the month of November, according to Nielsen.

On Oct. 2, Butterball LLC, a joint venture between Maxwell Farms and Smithfield Meats, purchased the brand from ConAgra for $325 million in an all-cash deal.