Why Bertolli Is Using Webisodes to Promote Frozen Dinners

Bertolli wants consumers to swap pizza for ready-in-12-minutes Italian meals on Oscars night. The Unilever-owned frozen foods brand is launching a new campaign, called “Italy is Served,” during the awards ceremony this Sunday. Gaston Vaneri, a marketing director who oversees Unilever’s U.S. frozen foods business, said the campaign is part of Bertolli’s strategy to communicate the quality and authenticity of its ingredients, even in a downturn. Hence, the largest marketing investment ever for Bertolli, per Vaneri. The campaign uses digital and social media, as well as celebrities, to drive traffic to “Into the Heart of Italy,” a mini Web series. It also includes homepage takeovers and bi-weekly, behind-the-scenes segments on media properties like Yahoo.com and Extra, respectively. In an interview with Brandweek, Vaneri discussed Bertolli’s upcoming Oscars debut, why a downturn isn’t necessarily a bad time to launch new products, and why you can expect to see more marketing from Bertolli in the coming months. Excerpts are below.

Brandweek: Unilever is using the Oscars to launch a new campaign for Bertolli. (The brand last advertised during the Academy Awards in 2008.) What exactly is this new effort you’re launching?
Gaston Vaneri:
There are two big pieces to this campaign. One is a new ad campaign that we’re launching [during Sunday’s Academy Awards] that highlights the Bertolli frozen, authentic Italian dinner experience. And we’re also launching a mini-series that’s sort of a way to discover the secret of Italian cuisine, as it highlights all the little details we built into the true Italian-ness of the Bertolli product. We’re using broadcast [a 15-second equity spot and a 30-second trailer] to launch the new ad campaign and to promote the Web series [during the Oscars].

BW: You and your fellow team members actually traveled to Italy to film the mini-series, which features culinary and acting stars Marisa Tomei, Rocco DiSpirito and Dan Cortese. What’s it about?
[I describe it as] Amazing Race meets Top Chef. It’s a search that goes deep into the very specific details of Italian cuisine and [those details] happen to be the [same] details we [put] into our Bertolli product. [The webisodes, which launch March 14 on www.intotheheartofitaly.com,] talk about how Bertolli sent three celebrated Italians–DiSpirito, Tomei and Cortese–on a mission to unlock the secrets of Italian passion and the artisanal culinary techniques that have inspired Bertolli’s line of frozen meals. In each of the six episodes, Marisa, Rocco and Dan learn from Italy’s leading chefs and culinary experts, who create contemporary Italian food with a sense of origin. [They undergo] a series of challenges, from foraging for fresh ingredients and trying their hands at artisinal approaches to creating authentic, restaurant dishes that are the inspiration for Bertolli frozen meals. [The equity TV campaign, on the other hand, talk about what a] beautiful, amazing, engaging and passionate experience it is to eat in Italy the way Italians do. The only problem is that Italy is 6,000 miles from where you are and you need to go to work tomorrow. Luckily, you have Bertolli in your freezer and it can replicate that experience for you in 12 minutes.

BW: But why is Bertolli—a premium brand—playing up the “quality” approach in a downturn?
The background is, we sell products that are [priced at a] premium because they are produced with a high level of quality and a lot of detail. We truly replicate the artisanal way of cooking products. But a lot of love and care goes into that in the process, and the challenge is, “How do we get the consumer to appreciate all of that detail and care that we put into the product?” The insight is, when you look at the huge success of cooking [as a way of entertaining]—you have all these cooking shows—people get truly engaged in the process of cooking. That’s the insight we leveraged and the solution we found with this campaign. That drives home the point of how true our Italian cuisine is and how it’s built into the details of our product. It’s a new challenge we decided to take on because we needed a new solution.

BW: How is the brand—and the frozen foods category—doing in a downturn?
We’re fortunate the category is still growing, and that’s possibly because consumers can’t afford other forms of entertainment, like going out, eating out, and so, they’re elevating their dinners at home. This is driving the category up. Bertolli is a premium brand within the category, but the reason why it’s growing is because we stuck to our principle of quality. We didn’t fall into the temptation of cutting any corners. The product continues to be very high quality. It’s superior to any product in the category and that’s because of the testing we do and the high level of detail we put into it. Consumers might try to spend less every day, but when it comes to eating an excellent dinner, they are fine with buying a premium product.

BW: Digital and social media’s a big component of this. Are you trying to reach millennials or a younger, online audience?
Age is not the big discriminator. It’s not how we define our consumer. Income, is, to a small degree, but fundamentally, it’s about their relationship with food. [Bertolli’s consumers are people who] appreciate, enjoy and want to learn about very good food, but they are not necessarily very involved cooks. They are more interested in eating good food than they are in cooking good food.

BW: Has Bertolli ever run a campaign of this size—and scale—before?  (Agencies Mindshare, Mindshare Entertainment, McCann Erickson, Brightline iTV, Ogilvy and Ogilvy Action handled media buying, Webisode production, creative, interactive, pr and in-store duties, respectively.)
We’ve done integration [partnerships] before, [including] Top Chef and the Oscars in 2008. And we’ve worked with [Italian American chef] Rocco DiSpirito before. What’s new about this campaign is this is much larger in size than anything we’ve ever done before. The level of integration that we put into this campaign is way more complete, as is the caliber of the talent we’ve involved in this launch. [Tomei, DiSpirito and Cortese host different cooking segments in the mini series.]

The other new thing is we decided to go to where Bertolli’s roots are. We produced all of this in Italy—both the equity campaign and the mini series—because we knew if we wanted to showcase our Italian authenticity, there is nothing better than going back to where our roots are.

BW: P.F. Chang’s partnership [for the launch of Asian-inspired Bertolli cuisine] aside, is Bertolli rolling out any more new products this year?
We have two new products this year for Bertolli from an innovation standpoint. Both are potato-based. That’s something that’s new for the brand and the category. (We didn’t have potato products before, but [now we do] because it’s a very popular vegetable.) We have two awesome dishes launching next month: Tuscan braised beef with yellow skin potatoes and chicken marsala with roasted red skin potatoes.

BW: Give us an example of how Bertolli captures the “essence” and authenticity of Italian cooking in either of these products.
We choose to continue to play a premium and superior product quality strategy when there are plenty of competitors that will play it in a different way. Chicken marsala, for instance, uses Marsala wine in the original recipe. There are ways to fake that but we don’t do that. We use true Marsala wine, which is more complicated and more expensive to produce. It doesn’t matter. That’s the way it’s done in Italy. That’s the way we do it. And we’ll continue to explain to consumers why [it’s the] little details and quality that’s important and how you can come to appreciate both of [these] in our products.

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