Carnivores cringed last month when President Donald Trump poured ketchup on a $54 dry-aged steak.
Business being business, condiment giant Heinz may be hoping the president’s tastebuds set off their own economic red crusade around the ketchup-maker.
Heinz – which controls 63 percent of the U.S. ketchup market – just launched a month-long advertising campaign in Trump’s hometown with the simple words, “Pass the Heinz.” One of three ads features a mouthwatering slice of medium-rare steak dangling on a fork – no ketchup in sight.
Two more ads include a cheeseburger with the works and a heap of crinkle french fries. All three ads ran in the New York Post, and the fries ran in Variety.
Heinz said the ketchup campaign was in the works a long time, well before Trump committed the unthinkable and added ketchup to his steak. The initiative is based on an episode of the popular AMC television show “Mad Men,” a period series set during the 1950s and 1960s. The show ran from 2007 to 2015.
In the TV episode, Mad Men protagonist Don Draper pitches a “Pass the Heinz” campaign that does not show the ketchup, which was considered so risky as a way to sell the product that the client rejected the concept.
But half a century later, Heinz and its advertising house, David the Agency, have resurrected it.
“The idea was inspired by the show,” Heinz brand head Nicole Kulwicki said. “The David team came to us with this idea and we felt it still worked today.”
She said the photographs of the steak, the cheeseburger and the french fries were shot to appear exactly as they were first presented by the fictional Draper.
Allen Adamson, founder of BrandSimple Consulting, said he thinks the ads work, but that print and billboards have limited appeal these days.
“While they were effective in the Mad Men days, people don’t linger that much with print ads,” Adamson said. “Today, you need to hit them between the eyes with a 2-by-4 to get their attention.”
Kulwicki said the three billboard ads will remain up in New York for the next month. No further print ads are planned. She said Heinz is sharing the billboard images on its social media channels.
“We wanted to be also to share the campaign with Mad Men and Heinz fans nationwide,” she said.
Heinz is part of Kraft Heinz Company, which had revenue of more than $26 billion in 2016, making it the the third-largest food and beverage company in North America and fifth-largest in the world. Its brands include Kraft Mac & Cheese, Oscar Mayer meats and Maxwell House coffee.
Jorge Aguilar, a brand consultant with San Francisco-based Prophet, said the “Pass the Heinz” ad is a bit late, coming two years after Mad Men stopped airing new episodes and well past the peak of its popularity. He suggested the sprawling packaged foods company could build on the ad to show how its products make life easier.
“When you think about relevance, the biggest opportunity for Heinz and any of these brands is making the lives of consumers easier,” Aguilar said. “When we think about Heinz, what does it give you? A condiment that is very difficult to get out of the bottle. How are you helping my life become more easy?”
Kulwicki said the campaign was timed to the 10th anniversay of Mad Men. She said the idea behind “Pass the Heinz” isn’t just ketchup, but the company’s latest entrants into the condiment field, including a new yellow mustard that was launched in 2015 followed by five barbecue sauces a year later.
(Barbecue sauce for your French fries, anyone?)
Heinz and its agency played the links to Mad Men to the hilt, evoking the 1960s with typewriter lettering on the announcement and crediting the Draper’s fictional advertising firm, “Sterling Cooper Draper Price” as co-agency with David.
“What is unique is that advertisers often buy an ad to get on a show,” Kulwicki said. “This took an ad from a show and brought it to life in the real world.”
And in what is easily the most important survey finding of the early days of the Trump administration, the left-leaning Public Policy Polling finds that Americans are generally united in their disdain for ketchup on steak. Over half of respondents, 56 percent, disapproved of ketchup on steak. Only 27 percent say it’s fine, while 17 percent don’t care.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Thomas Heath