Ogilvy, Cargill Hit Sweet Spot

Cargill is getting emotional about its stevia-based natural sweetener.

The company has unveiled new ads, via Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, to promote its Truvia brand. The zero-calorie sweetener is part of a fast-growing category, which became popular in 2008 when companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi announced plans to launch beverages using a sweetener derived from the stevia plant. (Coke makes Odwalla juices that are sweetened with Truvia, while rival Pepsi uses a sweetener called PureVia, supplied by the Whole Earth Sweetener Co.)

One spot for Truvia opens with a woman staring across the table at her guilty indulgence — a chocolate bunny. “All day and all night, we argue and fight,” the voiceover says. The woman continues staring until the bunny is shown in a close-up, missing an ear. The spot goes on to reveal a healthier indulgence: Truvia.

Another spot features an office worker faced with the same dilemma when she steals a glance at a plate of donuts. The woman forgets about the sugary treats once she hears about Truvia. This is a treat that won’t “land on my hips or thighs,” the voiceover says.

When Cargill introduced Truvia, ads were meant to be educational, offering consumers an alternative to sugar. That campaign, also by Ogilvy, carried the tagline “Honestly sweet.” It consisted of TV, print and online ads.

The new spots, however, are about “connecting directly with consumers and attaching our brand name and our brand positioning to this new category,” said Cargill rep Ann Tucker. “These are the moments and things that women do when they make these trade offs,” she said.

The popularity of stevia-based sweeteners has mainly been driven by consumer demand for more natural products. “People care about where their food comes from. We are a concerned generation of label readers,” said Tucker.

But Cargill’s shift from an educational to an emotional message may be premature. Many Americans still haven’t heard of stevia, said Mintel senior analyst David Browne. In a report published in August 2009, Mintel found that 68 percent of consumers weren’t familiar with the sweetener. “While that was more than a year ago, not much has likely changed,” Browne said.

Part of the reason why, per Browne, is the fact that brands tend to emphasize the benefits of stevia (such as “zero calories” and “natural”) in product packaging, rather than telling consumers exactly what it is. Although when it comes to Cargill, the company has been diligent in explaining stevia to consumers, offering them the product’s “look and feel,” Browne said.