CPG, Food: Kraft Macaroni & Cheese SVP Chris Kempczinski

The mac & cheese makeover mastermind

Few stomachs in America are unacquainted with Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. The affordable dinner in a box has been feeding everyone from starving students to delighted kids since 1937. But sometimes everybody knowing you means everybody taking you for granted. “We had a campaign that we had been running for 10 years and a package that basically hadn’t changed for 15 or 20,” recalls Chris Kempczinski, svp, marketing. “The brand was due for a makeover.”

Kempczinski made sure it wasn’t just any makeover. Rather than launching yet another marketing effort aimed at children, Kempczinski decided to target their parents, the baby boomers who grew up eating those inimitable orange noodles.

Risky? Not to him. “I think it would be a riskier decision to not try to go after adults,” Kempczinski says. “If we pigeonholed Kraft Macaroni & Cheese as just kids’ food, we’d be missing out on a much bigger growth opportunity to make sure that it was center of the plate, and something that the whole family could enjoy.”

Kempczinski adds that Kraft realized that plenty of adults were opening up that blue box anyway, so the marketing exercise became one of bestowing a kind of social approval. “We needed to give adults a little more permission to be eating it,” he says.

With a creative assist from Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Kempczinski got that message across via amusing TV spots addressing the societal problem of adults stealing mac and cheese off their kids’ plates. A number of clever digital promotions—like the Twitter game “Mac & Jinx,” a spin on the old kids’ game that lets people win free boxes of the product—and careful packaging updates helped shore up the new message.

      Kempczinski’s “risky” decision has paid off: Kraft’s meals business has grown by 15 percent. “From the feedback we’ve gotten,” he says, “this is probably the most effective communication we’ve ever had on mac and cheese.”

Editor's Note: This is just one of ten Brand Genius winners being introduced by Adweek this week. Click here for more of this weeks Brand Genius winners!