Kellogg’s Cheez-It Gets Real, Though Not Real Serious

Snack brand Cheez-It wants consumers to know its product is made with cheese, the real kind spelled without a “z.”

The Kellogg brand’s latest campaign, which aims to drive home that point, replaces a previous, four-and-a-half-year effort that emphasized the crackers’ “Big Cheese Taste,” said senior brand marketing manager Aleta Chase. The change comes after the brand discovered that the use of “real cheese” mattered significantly to consumers.

People got that there was “‘cheese’ and then there’s ‘real cheese,'” said Per Jacobson, svp and executive creative director at Leo Burnett, Chicago, the agency that worked on the launch. (Starcom handled media-buying duties.) “They universally got that it was a better choice of cheese,” he added.
 
To underscore the authenticity theme, the brand this month began a TV campaign directed by Best in Show creator Christopher Guest showing what happens when cheese isn’t “mature.” One spot shows a jejune cheese round telling bad jokes and taping a sign that says “Kick me!” on the man’s back, behavior that prompts the cheese-searcher to mark “Not ready” on his clipboard. Then, one day, the cheese finally behaves.

“Morning, sir! Beautiful day, isn’t it?” the cheese says as sunshine music plays in the background. The cheese-searcher happily checks off “ready” on the cheese’s “maturation” lab report.

Jacobson said Cheez-It chose Guest for his ability to “quickly tap into a personality and set of characteristics.” After all, “when you are given a round of cheese, you don’t have a ton to work with from a character standpoint,” he said.

Kellogg’s Chase said the campaign stemmed from the “desire to build upon the emotional connection we have with consumers.” She added, “Consumers get an insider view [of] the lengths we will go to deliver the best quality cheese.”

Despite the switch in focus, Kellogg has strongly supported the brand of late, upping its ad support by 22 percent to $33 million over the last year, minus online, per Nielsen. Cheez-It’s sales, likewise, rose 4.4 percent to $340.5 million in the 52 weeks ended March 21, per data from SymphonyIRI Group, which does not include Walmart sales. The category rose 1.2 percent over that time.

Cheez-It has been around for nearly 90 years, but the cracker’s form has never really changed. “We wanted to stay true to the fact that [Cheez-It] uses 100 percent real cheese and nothing else,” said Jacobson.

The new spots, he said, play up that heritage: “We wanted to create a little bit of tension there…The basic message is that real cheese is worth waiting for.”

Kellogg is also uploading the creative to Facebook.com, where it has 190,000-plus fans.

James Fox, chief strategic officer at global marketing services company The Red Peak Group, said the campaign uses humor to highlight a “rational product claim”-in this case, the cheese’s authenticity.

But humor alone may not be enough to drive sales at the point of purchase, as that might not be “what [consumers] are thinking about” when they’re about to buy a box of Cheez-It, he said.