Relaunching Twinkies – – Attempting Marketing Alchemy?*

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*Alchemy: “A process by which paradoxical results are achieved or incompatible elements combined with no obvious rational explanation.”  Source:  The Internet

You may have heard that Twinkies are now available again.

NewTwinkies

New Twinkies Collector’s Edition Package

In the spirit of ‘don’t waste a good crisis’, post-bankruptcy, union-free Twinkies management is aggressively marketing the product at relaunch, including PR, a billboard in Times Square, social media, retail presence, and an increased shelf life to 45 days, from 26 previously. (yikes!)

However, they are attempting an extremely difficult balancing act: adjusting enough to develop a new franchise, while simultaneously not alienating the current customer base.  This is a tightrope walk at best; there may be actually no way to serve these two masters with one product.  Twinkies may be trapped in a box.

Pulling this off, based on what’s already been tried in the past, would be a huge success.

As everyone knows, with one ‘Twinky’ containing 150 junk calories and 2.5g of saturated fat (13% of the recommended daily intake), this iconic brand had become out of step with current food trends.  And that’s not to mention 30+ ingredients.

Twinkies ingredients

What’s a Twinkie really made of?

Twinkies had actually achieved some level of cult status for its indestructibility, celebrated in (among other things) a 2012 Super Bowl Chevy Silverado ad.

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Surviving the Apocalypse – 2012 Chevy Super Bowl Ad

So with much fanfare Twinkies is now relaunching, but long-term growth will still depend on either getting current older consumers to buy more, or getting new younger consumers to buy.  Or some combination.  There’s no other way.  And therein lies the rub.

Is it possible to keep the core elements consistent enough to satisfy the loyalists, while at the same time changing enough to appeal to a new crop of consumers?  Difficult.  New Coke of course comes to mind, as does JC Penney.

Further, this was a product that was off the shelves for a year or so while competitive ersatz Twinkies (now there’s a concept) chased some of the unmet demand.  So it would appear that they have their work cut out for them.

Can they pull it off?  Some clues may come from the new owners (Metropolous brothers) from an interview in March 2013 (my interpretation):
– statement that the brand is bullet-proof (“cannot be killed“)
– confidence that core consumers have high loyalty and can be kept while new ones added (through viral and other guerrilla marketing)
– goal to leverage “younger hipster consumers”…who are “on the pulse of what’s trend-setting
– focus on merchandising and retail execution – with separate grocery and convenience strategies
– willingness to play with the core formula (e.g. the shelf-life extension)
– expectation that product innovation will help grow the business going forward
– statement about cost savings, not being “slowed down with analytics or bureaucracy

TwinkiesExtensions2

Twinkies Historical Line Extensions

I respect the ambition and energy of the new owners.  However, I will hold to my comment about 6 months ago:  despite the incredible publicity, it may be difficult to achieve much upside.).  There is nothing obvious in what we’ve seen so far to support a turnaround, and in fact there may be a few areas of concern:
– focusing on retail blocking and tackling is an excellent move and should yield good results – for the current product
brand awareness is not the same as brand elasticity.  And affection doesn’t necessarily translate to purchase.  Many of us fondly remember the Good Humor bars of our youth.  Do you have any in your freezer right now?
innovating an iconic product may not be that easy – – this is a product with just one proven form. Former management unsuccessfully introduced 100-calorie packs, low-fat, banana and chocolate creme versions.  So extending the Twinkies brand is not exactly an original idea.
willingness to change the original product – – they’re already smaller.  What’s next? Take away a man’s Polysorbate 60 and there could be hell to pay.

Net, we wish new management luck – – it would be great to have Twinkies always within arm’s reach.  But attempting to deliver on two strategies with a single product is a tall order.

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3 responses »

  1. Dave – this is great and I enjoyed reading it. I also heard on one of the announcements that they also made the relaunched Twinkies slightly smaller too.

    Will be interesting to see what happens.

    Hope all is well.

    Marci

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  2. I hope they can make the financials work with just 80% or 90% of the prior revenue. I suspect they’ve lost a few customers during the product absence and attracting new customers won’t be easy. As you point out, innovating is much easier said than done. I totally agree this is not a growth business.

    I suspect the story is really about cost reductions: getting rid of difficult work rules and expensive employees. The question is how much of the revenue will return now that the brand is back on the shelves.

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  3. They have a few executives that are quite adroit at “street-fighting” to make things happen. I am not prepared to bury them at all. Time will tell – but I am cautiously optimistic that they can make it work.

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