Velveeta Nightmare

Food Marketing 201: Cheesepocalypse Outs Big Velveeta Fans

The marketeers on the venerable Velveeta brand took a bad situation — a product recall and a shortage — and turned it into a victory for their brand earlier this year. They also provided us with a glimpse of how food marketing works, for better or for worse.

Velveeta is a distinctive brand that inspires strong feelings. Some see it as the epitome of American junk food — highly processed, plenty of preservatives to keep it stable at room temperature, and 410 mg of sodium in a single small serving. Others see it as a comfort food they cannot live without. The fierceness of this attachment approaches the realm of addiction for some. These characteristics are the makings of a megabrand.

In January, as the Super Bowl approached, the news leaked into the press of a Velveeta shortage. It quickly went viral with its own twitter hashtag — #cheesepocalypse — because of the prospect of fans lacking a key ingredient for nachos. Oh my! The brand milked it for many millions of media impressions they could never have bought. News of a recall of some mislabeled Velveeta products went unnoticed. Sales went up nicely. It seems that the shortage only affected a few areas and only the one-pound box.

Not only did the brand get a nice bump in sales in a peak season, the storm of panic in social media helped the marketeers identify their super users — loyalists who can’t live without Velveeta. A brand’s super users typically represent only 10% of the people who buy the product, but they often account for 50% or more of sales.

Kraft was already working with their advertising agency to target those super users when cheesepocalypse hit. At that moment, the super users (some might say addicts) raised their hands on social media and opened up a treasure trove of target marketing data for Kraft.

The best nutrition advice we can find on Velveeta is: if you like it, enjoy it in moderation. We can’t help but think that targeted marketing will lead these super users to something other than moderation. Just sayin…

Click here to read more about Velveeta cheesepocalypse marketing in AdAge, here to read about Velveeta super-user marketing in the Harvard Business Review, and here to read more about cheesepocalypse from NPR.

Velveeta Nightmare, photograph © Hope for Gorilla / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.