Paul Holmes 02 May 2001 // 11:00PM GMT
Changing the color of an American icon has inherent news value. Heinz Ketchup’s launch of its new, Blastin’ Green EZ Squirt for kids held plenty of publicity promise. But…this promise was endangered when Heinz learned that Advertising Age planned to scoop them with a story about EZ Squirt six full months prior to the product’s planned January 2001 launch. On July 10th and 11th 2000, more than 600 television stations around the country featured our story, with multiple airings in the top 75 markets. Stories and taste-tests effectively saturated the nation’s consciousness with our news.
Even more impressive is that the phenomenal success of Phase One of the EZ Squirt launch was driven solely by our PR effort, and because of our forethought, we were able to respond quickly and implement the program with only 72 hours notice.
The risk in sticking with the original publicity launch schedule and allowing the Ad Age story to break on its own in the trade press was twofold. It was possible that once the trade press announced the product development, the consumer press would view it as “old news” and not cover it. Such an outcome would severely limit – if not completely eliminate – our ability to communicate key Heinz messages, which included not only the introduction of a new “for kids, by kids” product, but also the bigger business story of this brand extension and what it meant to Heinz’ corporate image. This last message was particularly important, as Heinz was known throughout the industry as a name synonymous with ketchup, but was viewed historically as not very innovative. Heinz took the stance that there are no mature brands. We could not risk having our messages pre-empted or muddled. At the same time, our messages needed to go beyond a straight business story. The images needed to showcase the product, kids using it and having fun doing so with chef-like control of the bottle in their small hands.
We were able to turn around on a dime to implement the launch program because in our planning we had anticipated the possibility of such a “scoop” scenario and were, therefore, able to hit the ground running when we learned of the Ad Age leak. We had already identified a target list of media and prepared our strategy for contacting them.
Seize a very tiny window of opportunity to generate national consumer coverage of EZ Squirt’s launch to coincide with the Ad Age trade story.
Communicate to select business press the broader company implications in the product’s development and launch.
Generate widespread consumer press, which would communicate that the new packaging gives kids control of the stream of ketchup and, therefore, enables them to have fun at mealtime.
Those messages were to be communicated to a select audience, including:
- Business media
- Consumer media, to reach the ultimate target of…
- Kids (who’d be asking for EZ Squirt)
- Moms (who’d be making the buying decision)
- Local Pittsburgh area media (business and consumer)
We knew that once the consumer media had the story, the focus would be on the wonder of “green ketchup.” Thus, we determined our best approach was to begin with an outreach to the business press, to communicate those critical messages, then, via b-roll newsfeed, AP story feed, audio news release and PR newswire alert, allow the focus to shift to the consumer angle of Blastin’ Green.
With only 72 hours to arrange for a Monday morning launch, the team donned their green hats and took the story to the press in a carefully orchestrated media outreach that involved: creating b-roll, recording an audio news release, and strictly timing one-on-one media contact to a hand-picked number of journalists, who agreed not to break the story before our Monday target date. This remarkable effort occurred over the weekend immediately following the July 4th holiday.
The media outreach began with an effort carefully timed to support a Sunday night AP wire feed. Media was identified, then contacted with a “head’s up” to the story. It was agreed upon with the client that we would offer no exclusives, except to AP, if they would run the feed nationally. Once we had that commitment in-hand, we approached select television media, and armed with only six product samples made available to us, hand-delivered product Sunday night to the national television morning news show producers for their Monday morning programs and to select business journalists.
To produce the B-roll, we rounded up willing, hungry kids for a taste-test/focus group recording session. The video package was produced and featured kids playing with the product in a manner keeping with critical key messages of new, controllable bottles suited for kids’ hands.
We successfully broke our story to hit simultaneously with the release of the Ad Age article on July 10th.
Business media coverage included CNNfn “Street Sweep,” CNBC “Business Center,” Bloomberg News and The New York Times, among others. Most importantly, Heinz key corporate messages were clearly communicated and the company was widely recognized as an industry innovator for the Blastin’ Green brand extension.
The launch was one of the most successful news stories of the year, with results in the first week alone topping 94 million. Stories appeared on every national morning news/talk program, including traditional network and national cable network. The story crossed cultural news lines as well, appearing on two different Spanish-language networks with multiple airings. The results for Phase One of the launch total close to 100 million media impressions (98,753,450). The video tracking indicated more than 600 TV broadcasts occurred in the first 24 hours, with multiple airings in the top 75 markets.
Our b-roll package was a tremendous success. It was used 1,000 times, covering 429 station/broadcast groups in 157 markets, 293 Top 20 market usages, and 3 national/international newsfeeds. The footage effectively showcased the product packaging and showed kids enjoying drawing on their food with it and then eating the food with pleasure. In fact, due to the overwhelming response, it had to be rebroadcast the next morning.
Associated Press issued the story to more than 16,000 news outlets and USA Today ran a photo of EZ Squirt bottles on the front page with an inside story. Extending well beyond Heinz’s key local markets, major market papers ranging from The New York Times, Newsday, Daily News, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and many, many others featured the news that Heinz continued to lead the ketchup industry in innovation. News magazines and trend-tracking magazines ran with the story. Heinz’ home town, Pittsburgh, was blanketed in coverage of EZ Squirt, appearing on all the city’s television stations, both daily newspapers and five radio stations.
Feature placements include the TODAY Show; Good Morning America; CBS Early Show; Fox News Now; MSNBC “The News with Brian Williams;” Univision Network Programming (Primer Impacto – Spanish language national network); Paul Harvey syndicated radio program; WINS-AM All News Radio; and WABC-AM “Rambling With Gambling”
Amazingly, for a product so new, green ketchup quickly catapulted into national pop culture, being spotlighted on Live! With Regis & Kathie Lee, Jay Leno’s Tonight Show, and radio programs like Imus in the Morning, and the Scott & Todd Show. E-zines carried the news and America Online featured it as a consumer quiz. It was even a question on Who Want’s to Be a Millionaire?
EZ Squirt has captured the attention of the public in a way that few products do. Prior to its national availability, Heinz was flooded with non-stop letters and phone calls from kids and adults alike asking where and when they could get the product. In addition, promotion companies have contacted the company with everything from professional athletes’ inquiries about spokesperson deals to movie studio requests. Elementary schools have even been calling to find out if EZ Squirt could be used in fundraising efforts.
As a result of its huge media success, Heinz stepped up production to launch EZ Squirt in October 2000, rather than await the January distribution previously scheduled. In addition, the company estimates that its inventory for the product’s first year of shipments will be sold out in less then 90 days, and the company has increased production to 24 hours, seven days a week.