Crackerjack "Vendor of the Year"
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Crackerjack "Vendor of the Year"

. To reinforce its link to America’s favorite pastime, the brand planned to launch a new Cracker Jack “Prize Inside” series, which for the first time featured baseball-themed toy prizes inside each bag.

Paul Holmes


Cracker Jack has enjoyed a century-long tradition as a favorite ballpark snack at Major League Baseball (MLB) stadiums, but the brand was not fully capitalizing on its unique iconic baseball heritage.  To reinforce its link to America’s favorite pastime, the brand planned to launch a new Cracker Jack “Prize Inside” series, which for the first time featured baseball-themed toy prizes inside each bag.  To create excitement and drive purchase, parent company Frito-Lay developed a national “in bag” promotion that offered consumers the chance to win the “Ultimate Prize Inside” - a VW Cracker Jack Beetle custom-designed to look like an actual baseball. 

To further strengthen its association with professional baseball, Frito-Lay sought to capitalize on the opening of the 2000 Major League Baseball season.  The company asked Ketchum to create an exciting, branded and newsworthy event timed to Opening Day that would: 1) reinforce Cracker Jack’s positioning as the ultimate ballpark snack, 2) showcase the new “Prize Inside” series and, 3) drive product sales in stadium.

Without the benefit of an official MLB sponsorship or the budget to utilize current professional baseball players, Ketchum found inspiration in the unsung heroes of baseball parks – stadium vendors.  Ketchum created a unique publicity event – the Cracker Jack Vendor of the Year competition – to recognize and reward the people responsible for literally putting the product in consumers’ hands.  The event pitted vendors from top Major League Baseball cities across the country as they competed in visually compelling (and branded) contests that tested their stadium vending skills.  The winner received a second custom-made VW Cracker Jack Beetle.


Media Audit: After reviewing the 2000 MLB schedule to research potential dates for the event, Ketchum conducted a media audit of past years’ “Opening Day” coverage to determine the typical level of attention.  The audit revealed more than 900 stories written in the week before the MLB season.  As a result, Ketchum set the event date a week before Opening Day to rise above the clutter.   Additionally, a media audit revealed the potential newsworthiness of MLB stadium vendors.  Ketchum planned a publicity stunt that focused on the vendors based on this research.

Spokesperson Audit: Research was required to find the right “voice” to represent a brand with such a strong “All-American” family image.  After a review of potential spokespeople, legendary baseball hero and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson was selected to host and judge the event due to his stature as a true baseball ambassador and his enormous media appeal over the past 30 years.

Competitive Landscape Review: A competitive review revealed that there had never before been a national competition using stadium vendors, paving the way for the Cracker Jack event to be the first of its kind.

Vendor Research: Ketchum contacted individual MLB stadiums to determine the best way to secure vendors to participate in the event.  Once it was determined that the vendors were only available through the concession companies, additional research was needed to identify which stadium vendor companies serviced the MLB cities Cracker Jack wanted to target. 

Behavior Benchmarking: Ketchum conducted pre- and post-focus groups with stadium vendors who participated in the competition before and after the event to track brand preference and likelihood to push the product in stadiums.


Generate publicity that strongly links Cracker Jack with baseball and highlights new “Prize Inside” series

Build relationships with MLB stadium vendors on behalf of Frito-Lay

Increase MLB stadium sales of Cracker Jack 

Align brand with vendors as a way to indelibly link Cracker Jack to MLB
Time event to take advantage of MLB Opening Day
Partner with leading stadium vendor company to create value-add program for its vendor staff
Engage third-party spokesperson to enhance program credibility and newsworthiness and deliver “Prize Inside” message

Baseball fans who attend MLB games and casual baseball fans
MLB stadium vendors


Strategy 1.  Create special event and media plan that would reach mainstream baseball fans and cross over from sports to lifestyle press

Ketchum hit a home run with the creation of the Cracker Jack Vendor of the Year competition, the first national event to honor stadium vendors’ contributions to Major League Baseball.  Ketchum transformed Manhattan’s Altman Building into “Cracker Jack Park,” recreating a mini baseball stadium complete with field, fans, ballpark music and even a hot dog stand.

Ketchum developed a unique and zany competition to attract media coverage.  Each event was designed to highlight Cracker Jack and/or the new “Prize Inside” series.  Activities included:  the Cracker Jack Call to identify the loudest, most unique product “call,” (for example, Hey-a, hey-a! Getcha Crack-uh Jack Heah!); the Cracker Jack Prize Search, which required each vendor to root through a bag of Cracker Jack to find the prize inside without spilling any of the product; the Cracker Jack Soda Carry, recognizing the vendor who could run the bases with a soda tray and large sack of Cracker Jack in the shortest time; and the Cracker Jack Sing Along, to test the vendors’ version of  “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

To reach mainstream baseball fans, Ketchum developed a media plan to target sports and lifestyle press.  Ketchum pitched an exclusive to the sports editor of USA Today highlighting the history of Cracker Jack and the “Prize Inside” tradition.  Ketchum worked with producers from both the “Today Show” and the “CBS Early Show” to secure a national broadcast segment.  By pitting the two rival programs against one another, Ketchum was able to negotiate the best story and most product mentions possible.  To expand publicity across the country, a b-roll package and clever press kits were distributed via satellite and wire services the afternoon of the event.

Strategy 2.  Time event to take advantage of MLB Opening Day

The event was planned for March 30 to coincide with MLB’s first games of the season played in Japan just prior to the “traditional” opening days held early the following week.  By hosting the event prior to the traditional Opening Day, Ketchum was able to garner strong media interest in the Cracker Jack event without going head-to-head with annual Opening Day media coverage. 

Strategy 3.  Partner with leading stadium vendor company to create value- add program for its vendor staff

Ketchum partnered with a leading concession company, Volume Services America (VSA), to ensure that the vendors selected for the event represented markets important to Frito-Lay.  

In order to best represent the Cracker Jack brand at the event, Ketchum worked closely with VSA to identify and select the top vendors from top MLB stadiums.  Vendors were chosen based upon their enthusiastic and exceptional selling style and technique at baseball events in their hometown stadiums.  Ten vendors received an all expense-paid trip to New York City to participate in the Cracker Jack Vendor of the Year competition.  

Strategy 4.  Engage a third-party spokesperson to enhance program credibility and newsworthiness and deliver “Prize Inside” message

Ketchum’s Training Center team worked extensively with Mr. Jackson to deliver three different program messages:  Cracker Jack’s link to Major League Baseball; the new “Prize Inside” series; and the Cracker Jack Vendor of the Year event.

Securing Vendors: Ketchum needed to secure stadium vendors from top MLB markets to participate in the event, a task that proved more challenging than anticipated.  First, instead of working directly with MLB stadiums to find vendors (as originally thought), the team had to identify, contact and enter into negotiations with several concession companies that service MLB stadiums.  Ketchum ultimately selected Volume Services America (VSA), a company with exclusive stadium relationships in key markets.  The second challenge was in locating stadium vendors during the “off season.”  Ketchum worked tirelessly with VSA to locate potential vendors at home, at second/part-time jobs and on vacation.    


Objective 1.            Generate publicity that strongly links Cracker Jack with baseball and highlights new  “Prize Inside” series

Result:  Secured an unprecedented 13-minute segment on the “CBS Early Show” which featured Reggie Jackson, the 10 vendors, the “Prize Inside” series, and the VW Beetle;  Product was mentioned 38 times throughout the segment

- Feature in USA Today focused on the new baseball-themed “Prizes Inside,” including ultimate prize inside -- the VW Cracker Jack Beetle.  A photo of the baseball bat spy-scope “Prize Inside” accompanied the article  

Ninety-two percent of local and national publicity linked Cracker Jack with MLB Opening Day

More than 35 million media impressions reached general consumers and baseball fans

Achieved 50 broadcast placements in key Frito-Lay markets via B-roll distribution

Objective 2. Build relationships with MLB stadium vendors on behalf of Frito-Lay

Result: Conducted pre- and post interviews with participating vendors and found that they now sell Cracker Jack more aggressively in stadiums; Cracker Jack is now showcased as a premier baseball snack by Volume Services America and by vendors who participated in the event. 

Objective 3. Increase MLB stadium sales of Cracker Jack 
Result:  In-stadium Cracker Jack sales increased 20% during and shortly after Cracker Jack Vendor of the Year event, which Frito-Lay ascribes to this novel publicity event. 

comments powered by Disqus