NEW YORK Johnsonville Sausage is breaking a new campaign that aims to connect consumers with the brand and shows how it can be part of everyday life. Called “__ville” (wordplay on Johnsonville), the multimillion-dollar effort, via Cramer-Krasselt, Milwaukee, features occasions when consumers are able to enjoy the sausage brand, such as “Summerville,” “Vacationville” and “Togetherville,” among others. The marketing push involves ads running in Good Housekeeping and Every Day With Rachael Ray, as well as TV spots on HGTV and Soapnet. Also kicking off are in-store and online components, and a nationwide sampling program. Johnsonville Sausage marketing director Mark O’Brien and C-K executive creative director Chris Jacobs (pictured above) discussed the new effort with Brandweek, and the challenges of creating an emotional connection between consumers and the brand.
Brandweek: You’re creating much buzz around the “__ville” as part of this new campaign. (One TV spot, breaking tonight on TNT and WGN, shows a water balloon exploding on a slide and the phrase, “Paybackville.”) Why so?
Mark O’Brien: “Ville” is part of the American dialect. So it already existed for us. And consumers already have a lot of emotion for our brand. There was a tremendous opportunity to take those moments and say, “Johnsonville truly makes those moments better.” We make it better whether you’re going to the movies or vacation or preparing a meal for your family. It’s about Johnsonville making those moments better and worth savoring.
Chris Jacobs: We went through a number of brand ideas and explored the “___ville” branding. The moment that one came to mind it rose to the top. During the time when we were developing it, everyone said, “That’s it!” We brought it into focus groups and it just scored off the charts. They took our idea and started adding their own versions or additions to it. They did it naturally; they started kicking out a whole bunch of their own “___ville’s.” It’s startling when your job is to come up with something and everyone else starts to do it for you.
BW: The new ads connect taste with the social, emotional experience created by the brand. How do the two come together?
CJ: The whole category conversation really for this area was filled with the “bite-and-smile” food shots, basically what we like to call “food porn.” There was no really big idea in the category. We looked across the board at everything, but found nothing that was really ownable or had relevance to people or connected to them on an emotional level. And that’s what Johnsonville wanted.
That was the task we were given and when we got into the whole area of sausage and focus groups, what we realized was that with sausage, it really is a social food. There isn’t sausage for one person. That doesn’t exist. Most people don’t grill sausages by themselves or eat it that way. Connecting the sausage with family and friends was key. With sausage, it’s more of a truism. We weren’t forcing the emotional aspect into it. It was already there. It was about taking that social aspect and bringing it to life.
BW: Aside from brats — which Johnsonville Sausage is most known for — you’re also trying to highlight the other products in your portfolio: Breakfast links, sweet Italian links, beef summer sausage, etc. Why so?
MO: The foundation of our business was built on Johnsonville brats, but we have branched out. Our Italian sausage is the No. 1 Italian sausage in the country. Our breakfast sausage and our Johnsonville breakfast links are [also] the No. 1 in the country. We have a much broader story to tell consumers and when we talk to them about Johnsonville Sausage and “Sausage is all we do,” it provides them with an opportunity to ask about other brands and the other products that we have. It’s a motivator to get them to search out the other product lines based on their very positive experience with Johnsonville brats or Johnsonville sausages in general. It’s an opportunity to give them a much broader sense of who we are and to explore and try additional products.
BW: How has business been in a down economy? (For the 52 weeks ended April 19, Johnsonville breakfast sausages fell 0.36 percent. Refrigerated dinner sausage sales, meanwhile, increased 9.19 percent, per data from Information Resources, which does not include Walmart sales.)
MO: Our business is performing really well. We continue to work closely with our customers [retail partners]. The core of our philosophy is HICS — the highest impact on our customers’ success. We want to make sure we deliver exceptional product time and time again through all the meal occasions we’re relevant for.
There are a number of consumer mega trends we want to tap into. Consumers are looking for ways to simplify their lives. They are spending more time at home, more time entertaining. They are not caught up on where their next trip or vacation is or next luxury item purchase. It’s a much simpler time, and our brand really comes to the forefront whether you are at home and entertaining or at a ball game and what better excuse to get together with family and friends than around a Johnsonville sausage?
BW: OK, all this talk about sausage is making us hungry. So what’s your favorite sausage and how do you like it served?
MO: If I was to have my friends and family over, there is no question I’d have to have some Johnsonville brats, but also some Johnsonville Hot Italian with some red peppers and onions. Our Johnsonville hot Italian sausages are fantastic.