When it’s my turn to stop at Mr. Peanut’s casket at his funeral this Sunday, I plan on sneaking in a box of Velveeta to be buried along with him.
I will smile contentedly when I do it, because I can lay to rest my bad memories of Kraft’s last Super Bowl marketing stunt in January 2014. That is when Velveeta clogged the news, but apparently not the usual amount of arteries, after Kraft announced supplies of their pseudo cheese product were running low.
Hopefully, Kraft may have done some hardcore brand navel gazing in the five year gap between stunts, because the execution and results of the two could not have been more different. The contrast comes down to this basic tenet: Mr. Peanut is the beloved, erudite 104-year-old spectacled mascot for Planters. Velveeta is… is… something created in a lab somewhere that packs 2,500 calories in a box.
The fiery road trip death of Mr. Peanut, as seen by millions on Twitter last week, broke open an outpouring of viral grief from fellow Kraft Heinz brands Oscar Meyer (offering a "21-bun-salute") and Kool-Aid, a "toast" from Skippy Peanut Butter, a send-off from Cheerios’ Buzz The Bee, a teary news report from WWE announcers in their booth, and numerous memorials honoring the "legume legend."
Five years ago, when the news broke that there would be a Velveeta drought sparked by its [cough] "incredible popularity," nobody tweeted that their lives were ruined or posted tributes that their Super Bowl queso dip dreams were up in smoke.
The announcement produced a ton of serious-minded news coverage, with the media immediately coining the term "cheesepocalyse."
Yet, early on, the story holes showed up like the holes in real Swiss cheese. Simple logic dictates that in order to have a shortage means that nobody can find your product – and sadly, numerous reporters had no problem finding Velveeta boxes.
Also, there was this indisputable fact: how could it be possible to run low on a Frankenstein-like food product whose ingredients list included milk protein concentrate, milkfat, whey protein concentrate, and sodium phosphate? Even Jon Stewart mocked the idea on "The Daily Show," saying the whole thing "feels kind of … what’s the word… bullshit!"
Kraft insisted it was not a stunt, giving NBC News internal memos from the previous fall to prove it.
Still, the food giant may have gotten away with it except for one fatal strategic mistake: they launched a web site called cheesepocalypse.org to guide the country through this tragic famine with a big interactive map, Velveeta facts, and social media reports. Who sets up a web site to track a supposedly major supply chain issue, treats it like a television weather forecast diagram, and expects it to be taken seriously?
Kraft overplayed their hand by believing consumers had an emotional connection to a bar of "pasteurized prepared cheese product." Instead, the public acted as if they were more concerned about who would win the World Darts Championship trophy in Frimley Green that month.
Fast forward to now: Kraft seems to have learned not only that it’s better to let everybody in on the joke, but Mr. Peanut is a personality in which they could create an entertaining narrative that consumers would follow. Mr. Peanut is as real as Velveeta is not real. Unlike Velveeta, Mr. Peanut has credentials: he won one of the first inductees into Madison Avenue’s Walk of Fame Icon Awards along with the Aflac Duck and Tony the Tiger. He spent last Super Bowl lounging around with A-Rod, dispensing love advice with Dr. Ruth the month after that, and launched his own IPA beer in 2018.
Velveeta has never even appeared in public with a Real Housewife.
I’m glad to see Kraft learned something about its brands and how to execute a stunt properly. Maybe that’s why you can buy its cheesepocalypse.org at GoDaddy’s Domain Broker Service for a bargain $69.99 plus commission.
When I put that Velveeta bar in the satin interior of Mr. Peanut’s casket this Sunday, I’m going to be hoping Mr. Peanut does a Jon Snow and tap dances his way back from the dead because icons never die.
Drew Kerr is president of Four Corners Communications