B.U. Bridge is published by the Boston University Office of University Relations.
taste for nostalgia
By David J. Craig
Competitors of Hershey Foods Corporation don't need to try to anticipate the company's next advertising strategy. Since Hershey began marketing its products nationally in 1969, its message has been as consistent as the chocolate recipe that made the Pennsylvania company the largest candy maker in the United States.
That's because by 1969 -- nearly seven decades after Milton S. Hershey launched his chocolate empire -- the Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bar was one of the most identifiable products in the country and TV ads could simply pitch it as America's favorite candy bar. The strategy worked, and company executives have rarely dared to deviate from it since, according to Shawn Zupp (COM'95), an advertising executive at New York City's Ogilvy and Mather, the agency that handles Hershey's advertising.
Zupp, who oversees advertising for the Hershey products Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Reese's Sticks, and Jolly Rancher candies, gave a historical overview of Hershey's advertising to about 75 COM advertising majors at Sargent College on Friday, April 20.
"The Hershey company was against doing any kind of large-scale advertising for a long time, and as one of the nation's original confectioners, they didn't have to do any," says Zupp. Instead, the company focused on solidifying its distribution networks and convincing supermarket owners that customers ate up its product.
A massive advertising campaign launched by Mars/M&M in the late 1960s, however, forced Hershey to hit the national airwaves. The company's first commercials featured sentimental shots of young children at play and the jingle, "There's nothing like the face of a kid eating a Hershey Bar." They ended, as would Hershey's commercials for decades, with the proclamation that Hershey's was the "great American chocolate bar."
The aim of the commercials was to "express a relationship that people already had with the bar," says Zupp. "They were very touchy-feely because Hershey was just trying to evoke an emotional connection with consumers. This was a brand that was an American staple, had been passed down for generations, and that people could remember enjoying as a kid."
While Hershey's commercials have been updated over the years by incorporating rap music, themes of racial inclusiveness, and other contemporary social references, the company's overall marketing strategy has changed very little.
"You see a tag line change once in a while, and lots of different cute story lines, but the themes in the commercials have remained the same," says Zupp. "It's foolish to walk away from what works."
A case in point is a series of humorous ads that Hershey ran in the late 1980s, featuring complicated story lines illustrating, as a doom-filled voice announces, that "change is bad." One features a class of grammar school students whose sweet teacher is replaced by a threatening woman who looks and sounds like evil incarnate. Funny -- but the company should have taken its own advice. The ads were ineffective and were dropped after a year.
"The commercials were trying to get across the point that Hershey's candy is dependable, but they didn't establish the positive associations with the candy that earlier spots had," says Zupp. "They were much darker and more negative."
According to Zupp, TV advertising for Hershey's other two most successful products -- Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Hershey's Kisses -- also have changed remarkably little since the 1960s.
The first of two types of commercials for the Peanut Butter Cup ran for nearly 20 years and revolved around slapstick plots where people argued about whether "You got peanut butter on my chocolate" or "You got your chocolate in my peanut butter." Since 1987, the candy's ads have showcased the inventive approaches people from different walks of life have for eating Peanut Butter Cups and ending with the moral that "there's no wrong way" to eat one.
"The idea for those commercials came out of research that found that many Peanut Butter Cup lovers saw eating the candy as a personal experience, almost a ritual," says Zupp. "My company decided in 1998 that the campaign had run long enough and proposed something else, but when we tested a new campaign, people didn't respond to it as well. They told us that it's fun to see what the people eating the Peanut Butter Cups in the commercials would do next. There's actually a new wave of those commercials being released later this year."
Likewise, Hershey's Kisses have been promoted primarily with two types of ads -- those juxtaposing the candy's small size with people's love of their "big chocolate taste," and those where the Kisses have human characteristics and engage in all sorts of silly and unbearably cute activities, from lassoing one another in a rodeo to disco dancing.
"For an advertiser, the challenge in working for a client like Hershey is to always be coming up with new ideas to express the same creative strategy so that it stays relevant," says Zupp. "But products like these are great fun to work on because you have a lot of creative freedom.
"The idea behind the latest Hershey's Kiss commercials was to create a world of Kisses, and to give them personality by emphasizing some of their physical and emotional attributes," he says. "People love Kisses not just because of their chocolate taste, but because of positive associations the candy has had in moments in their lives -- from getting them as parts of a gift, and things like that. And the commercials get at some of those special, charming qualities."