Chef Boyardee Meets Norman Rockwell

Chef Boyardee has cooked up new ads that boast about the wholesome ingredients of its shelf-stable meals. The ads mark the second phase of the brand’s ongoing campaign, dubbed “Obviously delicious. Secretly nutritious.”

The effort consists of print and TV ads breaking today. The first TV spot shows a father being pleasantly surprised as he finds out that Whole Grain Beefaroni contains “whole grain pasta.” His wife tells him to “zip it,” or else their daughter — and her friend, who is visiting — would “never eat it.” Bewildered by their behavior, the girls shoot each other funny looks across the table, and the guest remarks: “Your parents are freaks.”

The second spot positions microwavable Chef Boyardee meals as “wholesome snacks.” It opens with a girl sitting in a time-out chair because she almost divulged to her playmates that Chef Boyardee contains vegetables.

Both ads, via DDB West, build on the brand’s “Obviously delicious. Secretly nutritious” campaign, which launched last year, said Brent Guinn, brand director of shelf-stable convenient meals at ConAgra Foods, which owns Chef Boyardee. In its research, ConAgra found that moms didn’t fully understand what was in the product, but once they were told it had a “full serving of vegetables,” consumption on the brand increased.

Kids, likewise, ate Chef Boyardee growing up, but many, upon entering their adolescent years, forgot about it, Guinn said. That’s why ConAgra recently kicked off a separate campaign, featuring an unloved talking blanket. The effort, via ad agency Venables Bell & Partners, is meant to reconnect with this demographic.

In order to give parents a better idea of what exactly goes into Chef Boyardee cans, ConAgra is also running print ads that use images of happy kids hugging vegetables. One is dubbed “Broccoli Boy” while another shows a girl adoring wheat. The print ads will debut in September and October issues of titles like Family Circle and Family Fun.

The two-pronged strategy — one reaching out to moms, and the other, communicating with kids — aims to build awareness on the brand, according to Guinn.

In addition to the new ads, ConAgra has teamed up with AOL to launch “Club Mum,” an online community where moms can chat and share advice. The site, which features content from bloggers and parents, is “done in a fun, tongue-in-cheek kind of way,” Guinn said.

Richard Shear, principal at the Shear Partnership, said Chef Boyardee has an opportunity to stand out from its competitors. “I would call this a smarter Norman Rockwell,” he said of the print executions. “They have managed to combine the universal appeal of a great-looking kid with the most wholesome looking [vegetables] I’ve ever seen in a print ad to create an instantly arresting visual.” But, if wholesomeness is to become a key brand positioning going forward, Chef Boyardee “may need to take a more holistic approach,” and make sure the message extends to all forms of brand communication, Shear said.

ConAgra more than doubled ad spending on Chef Boyardee last year, as many cash-strapped consumers rediscovered shelf-stable meals. The brand’s measured media spending was $31 million in 2009, and $4 million for the first five months of this year, excluding online, per Nielsen. ConAgra said the spending on the new campaign is “substantially more” than what it has historically spent on Chef Boyardee.