Amid Downturn, Kraft Shakes Up Shake ‘N Bake

Despite news of a potential  economic turnaround, Kraft apparently feels the time is right to resurrect a recessionary staple, Shake ‘N Bake.

The PR, in-store and out-of-home effort, which launches this week, is the first time Kraft is advertising the breadcrumbs-style coating in a decade. The effort comes as consumers trade down to cheaper cuts of meat, like poultry, in an economic downturn. The Kraft effort is the latest by food marketers to attempt to revive shelf-stable food brands that had gotten less attention in good economic times. [See sidebar.]

Indeed, dollar sales of breading, batter and coating mixes—a $151 million category—grew 8.1 percent in the 52 weeks ended Nov. 1, per IRI. (Such data excludes Walmart sales.) Unit sales were up 1.7 percent during that same period. But Shake ‘N Bake’s unit sales fell 5.2 percent, even though dollar sales rose 5.3 percent, in part due to higher pricing.

Against this backdrop, Kraft’s new campaign attempts to update the brand by associating it with beauty and home improvement terminology. (Shake ‘N Bake is often used as an ingredient in the preparation of healthier forms of chicken, included baked. It’s also best known for its commercials of the 1970s and ‘80s, featuring child actors and the tagline, “It’s Shake ‘N Bake, and I helped!”) Using the home makeover metaphor, the new marketing communication beckons consumers to “take [their] chicken from drab to fab with the unique flavor and crunch of Shake ‘N Bake,” said Kraft brand manager Ellen Thompson.

“It’s about giving your chicken a makeover and a shakeover,” she said, adding that moms cook dinner at home more in a recession, and are looking for a break from that monotonous meal routine.

“We just found that it became a chore and it became boring for mom,” Thompson said of the eat-at-home trend. Besides, “how many items [let] you just stand there and shake it with a bag?”

Pairing Shake ‘N Bake with poultry’s popularity makes sense, she added, as chicken is one of the most commonly consumed meats, especially now. “It’s the go-to [meat], period,” Thompson said, adding that Shake ‘N Bake is “a great economical item. It’s 15 cents per serving.”

In keeping with the makeover theme, Kraft has installed ads containing real mirrors in the main entrances and opposite mall directories (known as “dioramas”) in 20 major malls in the Boston area. The goal is to get consumers to stop, look, observe their appearances, and, hopefully, the fine print, Thompson said.

One ad, for instance, teases, “You’re lookin’ good today. Is your chicken lookin’ good tonight?” Another reads, “You look smashing. But your chicken breasts could use a lift.” (From Shake ‘N Bake, that is.)

Kraft did not reveal the exact spending for the campaign but said it is in the six-figure range. It may choose to take the campaign national pending marketing funds and success, Thompson said. The Chicago offices of Euro RSCG and Weber Shandwick handled creative and PR duties, and Mediavest oversaw media buying.

Food analyst Phil Lempert, aka the Supermarket Guru, said Shake ‘N Bake’s campaign is part of Madison Avenue’s throwback to the 1960s, which is propelled by nostalgic baby boomers. Hence, this campaign as well as recent ones for Kraft’s Jell-O and ConAgra Foods’ Banquet frozen meals.

Lempert said using mirrors to catch people’s attention is a good idea, but it could also backfire with weight-conscious consumers, even though the product has fewer than 500 calories per serving. Said Lempert: “Someone might look at [the ad] and say, ‘Oh my gosh. I need to go on a diet. I won’t buy Shake ‘N Bake.’”