Turkey brands try to take the stress out of Thanksgiving

From the Butterball Talk Line to online recipes, the goal for the holiday is to help the host.

BBDO Minneapolis’s "Turkey Wrestling" film for Jennie-O sums up many Americans’ Thanksgiving preparations—frustrating to the point of chucking the bird out the window. There’s the stuffing and the brining, and that’s before it even goes into the oven, where a multitude of things can go wrong. It’s much easier to grill a burger or roast a chicken, but one can’t sub those for a traditional turkey on Thanksgiving. It has to be turkey, which forces many Americans to face their fears about the bird head-on.

The fact is that turkey remains a mystery to many, so much so that the National Turkey Federation has its own "Turkey Demand Project" aimed at increasing Americans’ consumption of the meat by encouraging chefs and dieticians to promote it. Every American eats 16 pounds of turkey a year, which is up from 8.3 pounds in 1975, but still not meeting the NTF’s goal of 20 pounds by 2020. By comparison, US citizens chow down on 270.7 pounds of beef per capita annually, which is one reason why advertisers focus most of their campaigns on educating consumers about how to master the feared Thanksgiving turkey. 

"The holidays are something different," said Neil White, BBDO Minneapolis president. "It’s not an everyday meal, and it’s something that you don’t want to get wrong, especially if you have your in-laws coming over."

Jennie-O has an oven-ready product that White says is almost impossible to mess up, allowing the agency to highlight comedy—instead of how-tos—in its TV spot. Still, the agency has stocked the brand’s website with recipes, thawing calculators and instructional videos, as Jennie-O wants to be Turkey Day resource.

Likewise, competitors Shady Brook Farms and Honeysuckle White (same brands sold in different parts of the country) take the stress out of preparing a Thanksgiving bird through digital tactics. Yes, they have recipes, buying guides (as in how many pounds will feed a family of four) and answers to turkey FAQs. But these brands take education one step further.

"Consumers are telling us they want to know where their food comes from and who’s producing it, so we’re trying to connect them with the farmer who raises the turkeys," said Michael Martin, director of communications for parent company Cargill Inc.

Kansas City agency Barkley produced a holiday spot that highlights Shady Brook Farms and Honeysuckle White’s independent farmers, but marketing manager Deborah Socha said it goes beyond that. It’s also about the fact that their birds are free from growth-promoting antibiotics, hormones and steroids, because, not only do consumers want turkey recipes, they also want to know what’s inside their turkeys before the stuffing.

"I think there’s a fair amount of angst that consumers feel around the holidays," Socha said. "We do try to educate or at least arm the consumer with the information they need to have a successful Thanksgiving turkey dinner."

Of course, the gold standard of Thanksgiving turkey education is the Butterball Talk Line. Now in its 35th year, it’s become synonymous with the holiday, with a podcast, beefed up (sorry turkey lovers) website and text-for-help capabilities. Y&R Chicago created an entire campaign that juxtaposed the Butterball Talk Line with resources that may fall short, like family members and Siri, with the end result, again, being education—or rather, education about education stuffed inside a 30-second spot about a 12-pound turkey. 

Who knows? If the NTF reaches its goal in 2020, Americans may be eating more turkey year round, and brands may not need to hold their hands each November. But until then, the good news is that no matter which turkey brands are purchased each Thanksgiving, there will be no shortage of helpful tips and tricks to make consumers the consummate hosts—which is something to be thankful for.

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