Hidden Valley Ranch takes on ketchup and mustard in new campaign

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Looking to break out of a struggling category, the brand will advertise itself as a condiment, not a salad dressing.

The day of vindication has arrived to those who drizzle ranch dressing on more than salad. For years, fans who slather the zesty topping on pizza, Buffalo wings and hot dogs have tweeted, pinned and posted their nontraditional uses of the dressing. But the category leader, Hidden Valley, largely ignored these superfans in its advertising, focusing instead on healthy greens.

Now, struggling to break out of a stagnant category, Hidden Valley is embracing its role as a quirky condiment. In its first campaign for the brand, which is owned by the Clorox Company, Dentsu Aegis celebrates and encourages alternative uses for bottled ranch. "It's not just salad anymore," said McGarryBowen ECD Marianne Besch.

And why would it want to be? In recent years, traditional salad dressings have been steadily losing market share to more exotic toppings.

"With the rising popularity of ethnic sauces and dips such as soy sauce, Sriracha, chili sauces, hummus, guacamole and the like, the salad dressing category is forecasted for only a 0.5 percent compound annual growth rate for the next five years," Amy Stevens, group category, strategy, and insights lead at Harvest Group, a sales agency supporting food, retail, and consumer packaged goods, told Specialty Foods last year. Likewise, research from Mintel shows that supermarket sales of salad dressing remained flat from 2013 to 2015.

"Hidden Valley is a big, mature brand in a flat-to-declining category," said Hidden Valley Director of Marketing Brian Steinbach. "We have aspirations to continue growing the brand, so we needed to look for new ways to do that."

The brand has already had luck moving beyond its core product. In 2015, it introduced Buffalo, Cilantro Lime, Honey BBQ and Sriracha ranch flavors, contributing to "strong double-digit sales growth" for the brand in the flavored ranch segment in fiscal year 2016, according to the company's 2016 annual report.

Now, the "Ranch Out" campaign (a play on the phrase "branch out") seeks to further that progress. It consists of two 30-second films that stick with the brand's usual Norman Rockwell-like imagery, but shows families putting the product on pizza, hotdogs and kebobs instead of salad. The campaign also consists of banner ads, influencer videos and print work. The digital elements launch today and the TV ads debut Sunday.

Currently, the spots focus on diverse families. But Cliff Stevens, McGarryBowen group managing director, says two future films will feature a couple without kids enjoying ranch during their "Netflix time" as well as single men, another example of Hidden Valley trying to acknowledge the changing realities of its audience.

"While we pride ourselves on being a very consumer-driven company and brand, we started to see a bit of a disconnect between how people were using the product, what they were using it on, how they were talking about the brand and how we were bringing Hidden Valley to life in the materials that we were creating, so it's really seeing that disconnect that helped spark this idea," said Steinbach.