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Velveeta’s quirky marketing collabs seek to shake up a 100-year-old brand

A resurgence in its popularity during the pandemic inspired Velveeta’s marketing team to embrace a “big mood food” ethos.

Velveeta’s quirky marketing collabs seek to shake up a 100-year-old brand
[Photo: Courtesy Velveeta]

Since debuting a rebrand and its La Dolce Velveeta campaign late last year, Velveeta has been one of the more active (and idiosyncratic) brands around—launching quirky, unexpected products, such as a cheese-scented polish with Nails Inc. earlier this summer; and the Veltini, a Velveeta-infused martini, newly available at BLT restaurants and on Goldbelly as of last week.

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While, at face value, these collaborations may seem like bizarre stunts, Velveeta is just the latest in a long line of consumer food brands to lean into avant-garde marketing tactics—think, Campbell’s Soup candles and Girl Scouts Cookie makeup—that create nonfood experiences in an effort to get consumers excited by age-old brands.

For Velveeta, which has been a mainstay in American supermarkets and pop culture consciousness for a full century, the beginning of the pandemic saw a surge in new customer acquisitions along with the return of cheese-product lapsed aficionados—as more people sought easy home-cooking solutions amid lockdowns and stay-at-home edicts.

“From a business opportunity perspective, it was huge for us,” Kelsey Rice, senior brand manager at Velveeta, tells Fast Company. “And it helped inspire us to think differently about the brand and about, what can we be doing to keep these households interested?”

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Rather than rest on its melted cheese laurels (so-called cheese pulls are one of the visual holy grails of social media audience engagement in food media and marketing), the Velveeta team saw an opportunity to really push the envelope of brand messaging, embracing and amplifying its previously low-key swagger.

“We’ve relied super-heavily on functional benefits—the melt, the creaminess, which is true, we could beat anyone in that contest—but it doesn’t make you relevant in culture, it doesn’t make people think about you,” Rice says. “We think there’s so much here about this brand that’s untapped. We believe it is a cultural icon that does not act like that today.”

Instead of focusing on the literal, the marketing team at Kraft Heinz pivoted to the emotional, repositioning brand Velveeta as an aspirational lifestyle—something not ordinarily associated with a supermarket cheese product.

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[Photo: Courtesy Velveeta]
“The La Dolce Velveeta campaign exists to make outrageous pleasure a way of life,” Rice says. “There’s a physicality piece to that that’s very real—we want consumers to have a way to physically engage with the brand, to have a feeling of outrageous pleasure. You can see that through our Pinkies Out polish—it’s a way to fly your flag when you love Velveeta, live your life pinkies-out because you go all in for pleasure. The Veltini is an extension of that because it’s intentionally absolutely outrageous.”

For legacy brands like Velveeta, adopting creative, envelope-pushing marketing strategies can be a smart way to get their products back on the cultural radar.

“The power of this idea is that it doesn’t make any sense at all,” says Tim Calkins, associate chair of the marketing department at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “We live in a world where there’s so much happening, so people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about you; especially if you’re an older, established brand like Velveeta. The power of unexpected and creative marketing is that, for the first time in a long time, people start thinking about these brands again.”

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So far? The audience response has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Rice—with more than one million Amazon.com searches for “La Dolce Velveeta” within the campaign’s first week and a litany of press coverage that is bemused but largely positive.

“The product itself is big mood food—and there’s just so much swagger in the commentary. We’re not planting that, it’s just how consumers are talking about the brand,” Rice says. For an initiative designed to propel engagement and buzz, La Dolce Velveeta and all its offshoot product launches have been wildly successful. “Ideally, we’re moving the needle in a positive direction for the brand, and what we’re doing is getting consumers excited.”

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About the author

Danica Lo is a Fast Company contributing editor covering marketing, branding, and communications.

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