How Spam Used the Super Bowl to Kick Off Its Sizzling New Message

From out of the cupboard and into the frying pan

Ads for the famed convenience meat aired in some markets during the Super Bowl.
Spam

Did you know that right now, as you read this, the pantries of one-third of American homes contain Spam? (We mean the precooked pork product, not the junk mail.) Using 2016’s tally of 125.82 million households in America, that comes to nearly 43 million homes with a can of Spam on the shelf.

That’s a lot of Spam, but parent company Hormel would, naturally enough, like to see more. Which is why the famed convenience meat has quietly lifted the lid on a new marketing campaign this week.

Actually, it wasn’t so quiet. Not only did Spam air its new ads in select markets during the Super Bowl, its new campaign is all about noise—specifically, the sizzling sound a slice of Spam makes when it hits a hot frying pan.

Spam

“We’re transitioning into our 80th anniversary year,” said marketing director Nicole Behne, “and we centered on one thing we know to be true: When people hear the sizzle of Spam, it gets them to start craving it.”

Which is where the aforementioned 43 million homes come in. Hormel’s internal research revealed that while a third of Americans already have a can of Spam in the house, many of them just leave it there. Maybe they’re saving it for an emergency. Maybe it’s there for when they run out of groceries. Or maybe Americans simply have too much faith in Spam’s theoretically unlimited shelf life. Whatever the reason, Hormel wants Americans who’ve already bought Spam to actually open it and is hoping that sizzling sound will motivate them.

“We found that people [who’ve bought Spam] tend to forget about it,” Behne said. “They know where they have it and save it for when they need it. So the new campaign is about getting people to grab it out of their pantries and use it.”

“The campaign celebrates what Spam lovers already know—nothing beats the sound, smell and taste of Spam sizzling in your frying pan,” added Noel Haan, executive creative director of BBDO Minneapolis, which created the new spots.

One spot shows a woman cooking up some Spam fried rice, starting with cubes of Spam in the pan crackling louder than wet logs in a fireplace. The tagline: “Spam. Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve fried it.” In another spot, the camera comes in tight on Spam and eggs, then mom spearing some fried Spam with a fork and the tagline, “Sizzle, Pork, And Mmm.” (That’s also a new riff on what “SPAM” supposedly stands for, though the term was originally a portmanteau of “spiced” and “ham.”) Other spots show Spam burgers and even Spam sushi—but all the Spam gets fried up first, and it makes a lot of noise.

An estimated 12 percent of Americans saw these spots during the Big Game on Sunday. Spam bought commercial time in 24 markets, regions that Hormel identified as having residents who are already favorably disposed to Spam. (The brand’s typical TV buy is 39 markets.)

Though many consumers associate Spam with postwar suburbia (it first hit shelves in 1937, in fact), it’s held onto its spot on today’s grocery lists. In fact, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, sales of Spam shot up 14 percent. And even with employment largely returned to prerecession levels, Spam’s price—at Walmart, a 12-ounce can goes for $2.48—remains highly attractive at a time when nominal wage growth remains sluggish.

Even so, Spam has its issues. Thanks largely to Monty Python (whose famous 1970 skit for the BBC later became the 2004 Broadway show Spamalot), few grocery items come with the cultural baggage Spam carries. Its pale pink color resembles that of Silly Putty, and myths abound about what’s actually in the stuff (more on that in a minute.) And while Spam has had a “lite” variety since 1992, the fat and sodium content of the recipe, developed long before anybody worried about stuff like that, remains a hurdle.

It makes sense, then, that Spam has settled on one product attribute—the inimitable sound of frying—that most everybody enjoys listening to.

Meanwhile, Hormel is also directing its marketing at potential new consumers (read: millennials) who are, as Behne puts it, “open to having Spam but never purchased it.”

To that end, Hormel has filled Spam’s website with over 100 recipes (from a hot-pressed Cuban Spamwich to something called Nutty Spam Surprise.) The company has also put a renewed emphasis on the fact that Spam has only six ingredients: pork, salt, water, potato starch, sugar and sodium nitrate—no doubt in response to plenty of internet jokes and rumors of what Spam’s actually made of.

“Marketing to the next generation is about telling them what’s in it,” Behne said. “There’s nothing we’re trying to hide.”

The Super Bowl commercials, too, featured an up-front presentation of the meat as something that fries up just like ham or bacon and goes well with a breakfast as universal as eggs. “Our goal was to dispel the myth that Spam is mystery meat,” BBDO’s Haan said. “Our core audience appreciated the context, and the work certainly gave nonusers something to think about.”

Nonusers will get more to think about this summer, when Hormel puts its food trucks back on the road for a new cross-country promotion. Light on the details at this stage, Behne says it will be similar to the Spamerican Food Truck Tour featuring chef Sunny Anderson that rolled through America in 2016.

This time out, she says, there will be a greater focus on that sizzling sound.