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How Honey Maid Brought Wholesome Family Values Into The 21st Century

Senior marketing director Gary Osifchin talks about why the brand relaunched by telling real stories of the modern American family.

Not long after Donald Trump launched his gong show of a presidential campaign with comments calling Mexican immigrants drug dealers, criminals, and rapists, a century-old cracker brand offered up its own take on the reality of American diversity.

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Just before July 4th, Honey Maid debuted the latest ad in its ongoing “This Is Wholesome” campaign: in it, members of the Gomez family, who immigrated to America from the Dominican Republic, talked about what being American means to them. A heartwarming addition to an already successful campaign, “4 de Julio” epitomized the brand’s vision of wholesome family values.

In 2014, two years after the brand was relaunched by parent Mondelez International, Honey Maid debuted #ThisIsWholesome, created by agency Droga5, which depicted a diverse collection of American families that included same-sex couples, blended, and biracial families. When Honey Maid launched its campaign, it was into a media environment that had already seen several big statements on diversity from big brands (see Cheerios’ charming interracial family from 2013, Coke’s 2014 Super Bowl spot, “It’s Beautiful”). But, still, this was Honey Maid, a very mainstream brand, looking for broad appeal, and with decidedly un-edgy product. And when a brand like this decides to forgo the focus-grouped-to-death, diluted, literally white-bread approach in favor of something riskier, it becomes that much more interesting. Along with the 30-second TV spot, the brand made short docs profiling three of the families featured in the ad–Mondelez International senior marketing director Gary Osifchin, who heads up marketing for Honey Maid, says none of the ads were market tested beforehand. The reaction was largely positive, but did attract the predictable backlash. The brand didn’t blink, in fact it turned the hate mail into another ad, in which artists used the negative letters to spell out “Love.”

The bold approach has paid off for a brand that’s product has long been relegated to faceless conduit for the sexier marshmallows and chocolate at cookouts. Osifchin says the brand’s core graham cracker product has seen its business boosted in the high single digits since the campaign began. “It’s catapulted the brand to the emotional level,” says Osifchin. “Historically, the brand’s always been used in recipes, but we’ve gone from that to a brand that people want and choose to use because of the message we’re putting into the world.”

Finding The Root Of An Idea

While Honey Maid has been around for almost 100 years, it doesn’t quite hold the same sweet-toothed sway as some of its Mondelez cookie-brand brethren like Oreo or Chips Ahoy. In order to relaunch the crackers, Osifchin and Droga5 dug back into Honey Maid history to find what would eventually become the root of its strategy.

“We looked back at decades of advertising and Honey Maid was always portrayed as a wholesome snack, something you could say yes to,” says Osifchin. “And so many of these ads depicted the wholesome family. But the families were very much a Madison Ave family, not necessarily reflective of what America looked like in the ‘40s, ’50s and ’60s.”

That word wholesome, just kept coming up when they would think about what the brand’s name and image are, even today, from both a product and consumer standpoint. But a lot about both had changed over the years. “The product has taken out high fructose corn syrup, added more whole grains, and evolved, as we’ve also seen the American family change,” says Osifchin. “One look at the census data and you can see consumers in America are different than what they were before and the composition of the American family is different, too. The diversity of families that exists today became the foundation of the Honey Maid idea.”

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It was a simple idea, tapping the history of the brand while ushering it into the 21st century.


The Truth Test

The ads for #ThisIsWholesome may not have been tested before launch, but that was because the brand’s confidence in the idea–to reflect the reality of the American family–was unwavering. Osifchin says that the core idea of celebrating wholesome families, is something everyone can relate to. “You might not like all the families being portrayed, but it’s relatable,” he says. “As a marketer, stewarding a brand, it’s very important to have that insight right. We took our time making sure that was correct from the get-go, then we saw the amazing ideas the creatives at Droga5 and our other agency partners were creating off of that insight, and the breadth of potential stories, and we pretty readily said yes.”

Using real family stories also become core to the campaign, to show rather than tell what a modern American family looked like. “What’s been so important is to always show up in a very honest, authentic way,” says Osifchin. “The families are all real families, and we’re on this journey to always tell real stories. That juxtaposition of that with the enjoyment of our Honey Maid products, works together nicely. It’s a simple story that we’re telling. That’s part of the magic that works so well for us.”

All-In On Diversity

The idea of using a collection of single parent, same-sex, biracial and other family combinations could’ve have made for a short and sweet one-off campaign. But Osifchin says that the brand decided very early on that this was going to be a key part of the Honey Maid image and there was no point in doing it halfway.

“I had these conversations internally with senior management from the start, that said if we decide to do this, first we’re always going to tell our stories the right way, and secondly we’re always going to be telling these stories,” says Osifchin. “Deciding to do it out of the gate meant deciding to go on a journey of reinventing the brand. We were going to stick with the stories representing some of the breadth and depth that exists in America. We can’t represent everyone, but we do represent some of the diversity in America today.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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