Here’s The Story Behind Hamburger Helper’s Viral Mixtape

'Watch the Stove' has been played over 4 million times

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On Friday Hamburger Helper dropped a five track mixtape, "Watch the Stove." By Monday morning the brand had garnered 432,660,000 social impressions and 4,086,000 plays on SoundCloud. The response was almost unanimous; Hamburger Helper's album was a hit.

But the General Mills brand wasn't expecting that kind of viral success and engagement from the stunt, according to Liana Miller, marketing communications planner and creative lead for Helper.

"This hit us by surprise, we did not expect this kind of reaction," said Miller. "We're a small and mighty team, we are six people who just have an interest in hip hop. We did not think this was going to blow up in the way that it would."

In the works since August, the brand's in-house agency, The BellShop, decided to create a mixtape after listening to its fans on Twitter, where it had become known for commenting on hip hop news. "On Twitter everyone had been egging us on saying, 'If you're going to comment on hip hop stuff why don't you guys come out with stuff,'" said Miller.

Getting approval for a project like this, the team "told people as much as they needed to know to get it signed off," said Miller. "Our chief creative officer was like, 'Trust the kids, let it happen.'"

Hamburger Helper has a divided audience of mothers and millennials, specifically young men who often make it in their college dorm rooms, according to Miller. Given that division, the brand's Twitter account caters to its millennial male target audience.

"We felt like this was a brand that was very culturally relevant, this was a brand people grew up with," said Miller. "Through our Twitter, we wanted to embody that fun vibe in the urban millennial, so we would definitely comment on hip hop news and it caught on because as you can probably tell there aren't a lot of brands commenting or playing in the space. We're one of the few."

As for the mixtape, Hamburger Helper decided that if it were to create its own hip hop content that it would have to be something that anyone who loves hip hop music would want to listen to. "It's just good content. At the end of the day, it's most important to create something worthwhile that makes you want to listen to it and not feel like you're being sold to," said Miller. "The millennials on our team were like, 'Let's make something we would listen to, not some marketing ploy.'"

To create the songs the Minneapolis-based brand contacted local up-and-coming rappers and social influencers including DEQUEXATRON X000, Bobby Raps, DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip, Retro Spectro, Daniel Davis, GenReal. The thinking was that the artists—who were paid for their music—should be representative of the brand's consumers.

"We told them write a song about Hamburger Helper and go with it," said Miller. "We didn't tell them they had to mention Hamburger Helper this many times. We literally told them, 'Write a rap song about Hamburger Helper and then show it to us.' We didn't have any second rounds where they had to go back and edit. The only time we had to edit even one of the tracks was to make one of the beats a little bit faster."

While the mixtape wasn't actually a joke, the brand thought that its consumers and fans would be prepared for something lighthearted and fun from Hamburger Helper on April Fools' Day.

"Even though it was on April Fools it wasn't meant to be an April Fools' joke, this is actually happening," said Miller. "We just figured our audience would be ready for laughs. It was Friday, vibes were good, people were happy and excited. It was really just a matter of when our audience was ready to hear this."

As for the overwhelmingly positive response to the mixtape, Miller sees this as proof that brands must strive to be "authentic and real with millennials."

"We see so many times with brands trying to say 'bae' or be funny and doing all of these things but honestly if you're just authentic and real with the consumer and speak to them in the language that they speak and don't try to put anything down their throats then [a response] like this will happen," said Miller.

@KristinaMonllos Kristina Monllos is a senior editor for Adweek.