AP Food Industry Writer
NEW YORK - Stove Top Stuffing is strictly for Thanksgiving. At least that's what the Pilgrims would have you believe.
In an ad campaign that launches Monday, Kraft Foods Inc. will use humor to try and boost sales of the 40-year-old brand by marketing the holiday dish as a yearlong staple.
The "It's not just for Thanksgiving" campaign will feature a community of Pilgrims who are coping with the fact that Stove Top is now being wantonly consumed on any old night of the week.
The ad campaign comes at a time when Stove Top has seen years of flat sales, while volumes have experienced some "give and take," said Carolyn Clark, Stove Top's brand manager. The other problem for Kraft is that the majority of Stove Top sales still take place between October and December.
In one of the first ads aimed at changing that, a middle-aged Pilgrim sits in a darkened suburban home and confesses his seemingly modern anxieties over the changing ways Stove Top is being used. He recounts an argument he had with his wife after she incorporated Stove Top in "this dish called Easy Pleasing Meatloaf."
"We're arguing about the kids having smallpox, but what we're really talking about is Stove Top," he says.
The ads will replace the current "Un-Potato" campaign, which was launched last year and used understated humor to cast Stove Top as the more exciting side dish. The ads showed images of a lumpy potato with phrases like "My favorite color is beige," and "My favorite sport is accounting."
Although successful, Kraft says the campaign pegged Stove Top as a mere potato alternative. The "Angry Pilgrims" campaign is intended to open up the possibilities.
Stove Top Stuffing was introduced in 1972 and is sold only in North America where consumers are familiar with the tradition of the Thanksgiving day feast. In the past, Stove Top ads evoked the warmth of family dinners with campaigns like "It's a good night for Stove Top."
The shift to a more laugh-out-loud approach reflects the company's hope of getting people to make Stove Top a regular part of their meal rotation in a variety of ways. To that end, a revamped website for the brand will also feature more creative, seasonal recipes that incorporate stuffing come Monday.
"Humor is a great way to get consumers' attention and change behavior," Clark said.
The first two ads will focus on the middle-aged Pilgrim, whom Kraft executives refer to as "Larry." But the story line will evolve over the weeks and give viewers a sense of a broader community of Pilgrims; in the third week, an ad will depict a testy relationship between a father and his smart-alecky teenage son. The dad nearly loses it when the son flippantly talks about eating Stove Top with tacos.
If the sense of humor feels familiar, it's because the Pilgrim ads were developed by the same ad agency responsible for the popular Geico ads featuring cavemen who are forever being offended by society's prehistoric stereotypes. The Martin Agency, based in Richmond, Va., also developed the "talking gecko" ads for the auto and home insurer.
In another Pilgrim ad that will air next week, "Larry" insists that he's the type of guy who "embraces change."
"I'm a freewheeling guy, OK? I tweet," he says. "But Stove Top was the thing that made Thanksgiving our special holiday. And if you take that away, what's next? Our buckets? Our muskets?"
Clark says the ads enlisted many improv actors, which inevitably led to some ad-libbing.
"Who knew that Larry tweeted?" she said.
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