Ad Verité

Apr 05, 2009 Published under Advertising (good vs misleading), Health, Marketing

Stuart Elliot covered a very creative campaign by, gulp, ConAgra Foods, with their Healthy Choice line.  Never mind that it may be an oxymoron to brand a frozen meal line, "Healthy Choice", but they found a way to use humor to attract consumers.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus appears in ads that are like skits of her actually evaluating appearing on these ads – questioning the product, and then in the process learning about it. EXTREMELY CREATIVE. Bold.  Probably will pay off nicely.

April 3, 2009


Healthy Choice Tries a Humor Campaign


REMEMBER that “reset” button presented by Hillary Clinton to the Russian foreign minister? A major food maker is pushing its own version on a leading brand.

ConAgra Foods began on Thursday an ambitious effort that seeks to reintroduce to consumers the Healthy Choice line of frozen meals and other products. The multimedia initiative has a budget estimated at $90 million to $100 million — a hefty sum in good times, much less during a downturn when many marketers are slashing advertising spending.

The reintroduction seeks to stir interest in a brand that was considered pioneering when it reached stores in 1989 because of ingredients and recipes that were intended as, well, healthier choices than offered by traditional packaged foods. By 1993, Healthy Choice was described by the trade publication Advertising Age as “the most successful new food brand introduction in two decades.”

But 20 years can be a lifetime in the crowded, fast-paced realm of consumer products, particularly in prosaic categories like packaged foods in which shoppers crave “news” in the form of innovation and variety.

For instance, according to Zeta Buzz, a tool used by the Zeta Interactive agency in New York to survey blogs, message boards and online communities, there were only 1,253 posts about the Healthy Choice brand in the last 90 days compared with 2,193 for a primary competitor, the Lean Cuisine brand sold by a unit of Nestlé.

The goal is “breaking through the fog of familiarity consumers have with the brand,” said Joan Chow, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at ConAgra in Omaha.

(“It’s very appropriate to work at a food company,” Ms. Chow said of her surname.)

So the changes to Healthy Choice include new products, among them a line of All Natural Entrées with chi-chi names like pumpkin squash ravioli and portabella marsala pasta.

The packaging, by the Northbrook, Ill., office of Brandimage Desgrippes & Laga, is new. The redesign is centered on a new brand symbol, an exclamation point, meant to signal “surprisingly great taste,” Ms. Chow said.

There is also new advertising by the New York office of Nitro, featuring the actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, in a series of humorous commercials. The spots echo the episodic form of the sitcoms for which she is known like “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and “Seinfeld.”

The expectation is that the serial spots will be “a great way to keep consumers engaged and cut through the clutter,” said Carlos Veraza, vice president and general manager for the frozen division of ConAgra.

The premise of the commercials, which are directed by Christopher Guest, is that Ms. Louis-Dreyfus is not really sure whether she wants to endorse Healthy Choice.

“It’s a ‘meta’ thing,” said Kathy Delaney, president and chief creative officer at Nitro, “advertising imitating life imitating advertising.”

The device enables the spots to convey information about Healthy Choice in a way that “never feel forced,” Ms. Delaney said, as Ms. Louis-Dreyfus and other characters discuss the reinvention.

In one commercial, for example, Ms. Louis-Dreyfus is reluctant to try a meal but declares after a few bites, “This Healthy Choice stuff has changed.”

The other characters include Ms. Louis-Dreyfus’s feckless agent, played by Don Lake, and a friend, played by Jane Lynch, who criticizes her dining habits by comparing her to a dog eating peanut butter. Mr. Lake and Ms. Lynch are part of the repertory company in films directed by Mr. Guest like “Best in Show” and “A Mighty Wind.”

The campaign also includes prominent placement on the Yahoo Web site, known as a home-page takeover; video clips and other materials on a special Web site (; and a revamped version of the Healthy Choice Web site ( The digital work is being handled by Bridge Worldwide in Cincinnati.

“Healthy Choice is a brand that had kind of lost its relevance and really needed a shake-up,” Ms. Delaney said. “This will make people sit up and take notice that it’s not the same old Healthy Choice.”

The effort seeks to take advantage of a major trend that has come out of the recession: Consumers are economizing by forgoing restaurant meals in favor of eating at home.

“It’s a trend that’s helping our business,” Mr. Veraza acknowledged.

As happy as that is making marketers of packaged foods like ConAgra, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft Foods and Nestlé, they are confronting a cross-current: Those same consumers are economizing further by trading down when they shop, forgoing name brands for cheaper store brands and private-label products.

The answer, Mr. Veraza said, is to emphasize that Healthy Choice offers value as well as convenience because “on average, a Healthy Choice meal goes for about $3.”

And each product in the new All Natural Entrées line will have a suggested retail price of $2 to $2.49. That may help Healthy Choice in fending off a price-cutting effort by Lean Cuisine.

There is also a charitable aspect to the Healthy Choice reintroduction as the brand and the ConAgra Foundation donate $250,000 to Feeding America, the organization formerly known as Second Harvest.

Several large food brands have been including such elements in new campaigns in a belief that altruistic approaches can resonate with consumers in tough times. Among others are Mott’s and Quaker Oats.

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