StarKist Campaign Presents New Face

Marketers have sought to claim exclusive connections to colors, fonts and celebrity endorsers. Now StarKist wants to “own” a facial expression.

A campaign breaking this week from MMB in Boston shows consumers puckering their lips in a “StarKist” fish-kiss face, similar to when two fishes come together for a smooch. The effort, themed “Have you been StarKist?,” is part of the Dongwon Group-owned brand’s strategy to make consumers associate it with seafood, not just canned tuna.

One TV spot breaking this week shows a father, daughter, older man and child making their best fish-kiss face. “You see it everywhere. On the faces of friends, family and complete strangers. A look that says you’ve been StarKist,” the voiceover says. The spot then zooms in on different recipes made using StarKist tuna (burgers and tacos, for instance).

The $20 million campaign follows research that showed that the fish-kiss expression could be “uniquely ownable” by StarKist, said Joe Tuza, svp of marketing and research and development. “It’s a universally recognized expression,” he said.

StarKist isn’t the first to try linking a universal human expression or motion with its brand. The Milk Processor Education Program’s “Got Milk?” campaign, for instance, employs the popular milk mustache in its ads, Subway’s “Five Dollar Footlong” spots feature a hand and Sure deodorant ran commercials in the ‘80s with the (still current) tagline, “Raise your hand if you’re Sure,” said Rich Young, manager of new business development and marketing at design consultancy Webb Scarlett deVlam. StarKist, however, may face a challenge. Dole and Green Giant aside, not many brands sold in the outer perimeters—where “freshness and healthy lifestyle[s] dominate”—also have a strong presence in shelf stable, namely canned goods, he said.