Kraft Mac and Cheese: A Stealth Marketing Approach
- A trend that has a critical impact on the consumer packaged goods industry in recent years is consumers’ desire for simpler, more transparent, and more natural ingredients. More companies have responded by publicly stating their intentions to remove artificial coloring and preservatives from longstanding brands and then repositioning the product as “clean” or “pure” within the market. While this strategy aligns well with trends, it risks alienating individuals who are used to purchasing goods based on more intangible factors such as nostalgia, predictability, and even taste.
- Kraft used a novel approach to handling these shifting consumer preferences. To stay competitive within the category, the company realized it had to rethink the product formula of one of its superstar brands, Kraft Mac and Cheese. However, management knew it was crucial to make changes without tainting elements of the product that consumers had come to expect. For generations, individuals had associated Kraft Mac and Cheese with its orangish hue and smooth sauce consistency. Kraft made it a point to carefully maintain these identifying attributes as it eliminated ingredients and removed artificial dyes.
- The aspect of Kraft’s strategy that was a real differentiator though was how it rolled out the reformulation. Rather than advertising the measures the company had taken to make its product more natural—common practice among competitors—Kraft simply didn’t say anything. Studies have shown that even the mention of a new formula can cause consumers to perceive flavor to be different, so Kraft chose not to call attention to the change.
- After consumers had accepted the new formula, as evidenced by sales remaining stable, Kraft launched a digital campaign to announce the adjustment. The campaign tagline “It changed. But it hasn’t.” was featured in 15- and 30-second online video spots. Tongue-and-cheek lines such as “We’d invite you to try it, but you already have.” were incorporated into digital display ads, promotions through channels like Pandora radio and Snapchat, and magazine print. Kraft also encouraged fans to share their experiences with the product on social media using #didntnotice and offered giveaways to encourage postings.
- Kraft’s ability to make a fundamental change to an iconic product without consumer backlash is a testament to its thoughtful marketing approach. Quietly testing the waters in a landscape of uncertainty can help companies anticipate reactions to significant product changes that ultimately help them stay one step ahead.
- In what way(s) could Kraft’s strategy have backfired? How might Kraft have been prepared for this possibility?
- How should Kraft respond to the demographic trends outlined in your textbook? What about cultural trends? Sustainability trends? Please be sure to answer each of these questions; they should not be lumped together but instead treated separately.
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