March 7, 2021

Advertising: A Familiar Brand Promotes a New Line of Cheesy and Easy

“Were you looking for this?” says a brawny 19th-century blacksmith who wears a leather apron and holds an uprooted metal box with wires dangling and “Order here” printed on it.

“Seems the drive-through is closed tonight,” he says, raising an iron skillet and a box of the new product. “Instead — Velveeta Cheesy Skillets.”

They are then transported to the blacksmith’s shop, where he helps her prepare the dish.

“Just brown the meat, stir in the noodles, seasoning, then smite them, smite them with the liquid gold until there can be no more smiting,” says the blacksmith, played by David S. Lee with the precise diction and syntax of a Shakespearean actor, as he ladles the Velveeta cheese sauce included with the product into the pan.

The spot closes with screen text that says: “Wield the skillet. Forge the family dinner.”

The commercial, which was first shown on Monday, is by Wieden Kennedy, Portland, Ore., and is part of a broader campaign that includes online advertising and social network marketing.

In another spot, expected to first broadcast in mid-September but already uploaded to YouTube, a woman is pressing buttons on her microwave when the blacksmith grabs her wrist.

“Reject these cold technological contraptions,” he says. “Would you want the shoes of your horse forged in a microwave? Your stove: Use it!”

Adam Grablick, the brand manager for the Velveeta convenient meals division, said the new ads, and the Cheesy Skillets line itself, would resonate with consumers who wanted simplicity but had misgivings about meals that were too simple.

“Our consumer doesn’t want to be slaving away in the kitchen, but she may not feel great about just pulling something out of the freezer and putting it in the microwave,” Mr. Grablick said. “She wants the meal to be hands-on, and for the meal to come from her hands and her heart.”

Velveeta, which declined to disclose the cost of the new campaign, spent $7.6 million on advertising for all its products in 2010, up from $4.2 million in 2009, according to the Kantar Media unit of WPP.


Velveeta, the pasteurized process cheese product brand, was purchased by Kraft — then the Kraft-Phenix Cheese Corporation — in 1928, according to the company.

Citing Nielsen data, Kraft reports that 40 million American households, or about 34 percent of all households, have purchased a Velveeta product within the last year.

The brand first ventured into shelf-stable meals — the industry term for foods that normally would require refrigeration but have been processed to be safely stored at room temperature — with its introduction of Velveeta Shells Cheese in 1978.

The shelf-stable meal market — which along with pasta-and-cheese products includes kits for pizza, tacos and sloppy Joes — grew about 9 percent, to $2.1 billion, from 2005 to 2010, according to the market research firm Mintel. The firm attributes the growth to more consumers eating at home because of the economic downturn.

A hurdle for future growth could be that 39 percent of those who do not like shelf-stable meals blame the taste, according to Mintel. “The biggest barrier in the category is taste, and we know the taste that consumers are looking for is around great-tasting cheese, and that we can win with consumers around Velveeta,” said Mr. Grablick, the brand manager.

While Kraft’s recipes Web site serves the primary purpose of increasing the usage of Kraft brands, it also has proven useful to the company as a barometer for consumer taste preferences. The four varieties in the Cheesy Skillets line — chicken and broccoli, ultimate cheeseburger mac, nacho supreme and zesty barbecue chicken — were modeled after online recipes that had drawn numerous clicks, comments and high ratings, according to Mr. Grablick.

In about 35 reviews of the chicken and broccoli flavor on solicited through its Vine program, where the online retailer provides yet-to-be-released products to some of its frequent reviewers, the Cheesy Skillets line averaged four out of a possible five stars. Reviewers generally lauded the taste, but many were dubious about the packet of dehydrated “broccoli florets” that amounted to less than three tablespoons and were described by one reviewer, Julie A. Dawson, as resembling “dehydrated grass clippings.”

The products, which became widely available in supermarkets this month, have a suggested retail price of $2.39, which does not include, of course, the price of the pound of chicken breast or ground beef required.


On the Cheesy Skillets Facebook page, the blacksmith announces in an introductory video, “I see you have found me on the book of face.” Later, he displays an iron version of the social network’s “like” icon that he has forged, and says, “Clicketh the button now.”

The approach is reminiscent of another character-driven campaign introduced by Wieden Kennedy last year for Old Spice, the Procter Gamble brand, in which the actor Isaiah Mustafa plays Old Spice Man in a series of television commercials and Web videos that have garnered more than 100 million views on YouTube.

“There is a knowing wink with both of these characters,” said Kenneth Smith, an account director with Wieden Kennedy, referring to the Old Spice Man and the blacksmith.

But while the dominant trait of the Old Spice Man, who appears shirtless and begins commercials with, “Hello, ladies,” is his sex appeal, that is not what the agency was aiming for with the blacksmith.

“What we didn’t want was sexual tension between the moms and blacksmith, so we were not looking for a lothario-type guy here,” Mr. Smith said. “This is genuinely a guy who you feel like wants to help you and is very sincere in that, so sincere that he almost feels a little awkward.”

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