Tag Archives: twinkies

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.

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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

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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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What my dog taught me about Twinkies

What, you ask, can my dog Nigel teach us about Twinkies?  A lot – what’s a brand worth, that sort of thing.  This question is brought to mind by yesterday’s purchase of now-bankrupt Hostess Brands’ bread portfolio (including Wonder Bread, Nature’s Pride and others) by Flowers Foods.   Sale of the Hostess dessert cakes brands (including Twinkies, Ho-Ho’s, Yodels, Suzie Qs and more) is expected to close within a few weeks.

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Well, Nigel is pretty bright, and he does provide perspective on the recent public agonizing over the potential disappearance of Twinkies.

You see, Nigel goes crazy for the ball when the humans play ping-pong at home.  After he beats us to a missed ball, he happily gives it up so the game can continue.  It seems Nigel loves the idea of having the ball in his mouth but doesn’t have much interest in chewing or eating it.  He likes the idea of the ball, not the ball itself.

In the same way, while many of us are emotionally attached to our experiences with Twinkies, and share in the grief of possibly losing them, it is unlikely that many of us are actually current Twinkie eaters or likely to suddenly become future eaters.

Twinkies is a powerful brand that is high in nostalgia (positive associations driven by past exposure) but unfortunately also one that has become quite low in relevance.  In an age where treats are increasingly either relatively good for you (e.g. 100 calorie packs) or utterly indulgent (e.g. gourmet cupcakes), and where consumers increasingly check ingredients, that retro golden sponge cake with vanilla creme filling is being squeezed from all sides.  Past efforts like reduced-fat Twinkies (of which I was a fan) or chocolate creme or banana Twinkies have generally not been successful – – they violate some aspect of the indulgent formula of the original.  So while the brand carries significant weight, the ability to convert that equity into cash is not a slam dunk — Twinkies loyalists are a particularly finicky (and shrinking) lot, and it’s not clear that there is a consumer franchise for the future.

What is the lesson?  Just because a brand is widely known and loved, doesn’t mean it can power future sales.  The winning bidder for the well-known Hostess snack brands will need to have assessed not only the net present value of the current franchises, but also the ability to extend these brands beyond current offerings to become more relevant to an audience that will generate long-term demand.

The successful repositionings of Old Spice and Cadillac from Dad targets to Son targets demonstrate that it’s very possible to recharge relevance, capture a new audience, and thus harvest latent equity.  The unsuccessful (and clumsily transparent) attempt to resuscitate Oldsmobile (remember?  “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile“) shows that there are no guarantees.  Kentucky Fried Chicken’s attempt to recast itself as less unhealthy (KFC) would probably be judged to have had moderate success – – the word ‘fried’ is decoupled from the brand, but we all know what goes on in there so there’s a limit to how far you can (and want to) go.

NostalgiaRelevanceTwinkies carries immediate and powerful associations and there are certainly potential avenues for the brand — perhaps traditional line extensions, perhaps co-branding, perhaps licensing the Twinkies brand aggressively to non-food products (clothing?  toys?  theme park ride?). The new owner will very carefully need to determine whether, and how, the brand that elicits such strong emotions might generate sufficient profits to justify the purchase.

To a great extent, it may depend on whether this old dog can learn new tricks.