A strong food advertisement campaign can be the difference between a successful product and a flop. But what makes food campaigns compelling? Consider these key ingredients: Strong slogans, memorable characters, celebrity cameos, catchy jingles, and humor. These pieces can work alone or in combination to create impactful food advertisements. Our list includes some true classics, as well as a few newer campaigns, that use these tactics. Dig in!
Top food slogans you can sink your teeth into
Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hand
What’s the most-liked slogan in food history? The Journal of Business Research found it to be M&M’s: “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.” (Also appearing on the list? “Got Milk?”, among many others.)
In 2018, M&M’s were the top-selling chocolate candies in the United States. A candy with the most liked slogan also being a top seller has got to be more than a coincidence.
It’s not Delivery, it’s DiGiorno
DiGiorno has directly attributed its growth to the slogan: “It’s Not Delivery, It’s DiGiorno.” The company cited sales for two consecutive quarters in 2009 at a bit over 20%, and even gave the campaign a name: “DiGiornonomics.” Instead of competing with other frozen brands, DiGiorno decided to directly contend with delivery.
DiGiorno attributes the slogan to working not just because it was catchy, but also because they had a quality product they felt “rivaled delivery” by the mid-’90s. A good reminder that a product can’t survive on catchy slogans alone.
A good slogan is not necessarily a combination of words you are likely to say in everyday conversation. One of the creators behind the “Got Milk?” campaign put it this way:: “Great taglines are clumsy.” Think of “Just Do It,” “I’m Lovin’ It,” or “Think Outside the Bun.” Clumsy, weird slogans can stick in your brain.
The first “Got Milk?” advertisements were a little weird and awkward themselves, incorporating dark humor into situations where the subjects had run out of milk at inopportune moments. Later ads featured frequent celebrity cameos. To be fair, this campaign could belong in several categories, but because its signature line has been often imitated, it belonged here the most.
Their slogan has now been replaced with “Milk Life,” an equally short and snappy campaign, but who, especially those of us who lived through the ‘80s and ‘90s, will forget “Got Milk?”
Memorable characters can take you far
Mr. Owl in the Tootsie Roll Pops commercials
Think back to elementary school. Did anyone in your class science fair try to answer the question: “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?”
Mr. Owl, the character who unsuccessfully answered that question in the Tootsie Roll Pop ads, has been around since the 1970s, with ads that have likewise never changed. We don’t know much about this secretive company, but who doesn’t know Mr. Owl’s standard: “One, A-two-hoo, three, *crunch*” that has now spanned decades?
Because nothing has changed in Tootsie Roll Pops’ advertising, the campaign is naturally vintage, and vintage works for the company’s other candy brands as well, like Sugar Babies, Double Bubble, and Dots. it’s the kind of history you can’t manufacture.
The only characters on this list who became an actual band, the California Raisins spawned a response they likely did not anticipate. When the ads came out, they were a hip, new take on the Chiquita Banana commercials of the 1940s. But, in an “only in the ‘80s” way, the California Raisins became more than popular commercial characters, they became actual hits, with four albums, an Emmy nomination, and a spot on the Billboard Hot 100. While the California Raisins aren’t the only commercial characters to get their own TV show, they were certainly pioneers.
The agency tasked with coming up with advertising for California Raisins realized the need to create characters that were easy to connect with, and used “vice products” as inspiration (think the Marlboro man). The first commercial led to a 20% increase in sales.
They even brought in celebrities like Ray Charles to sing versions of already popular Raisins covers in future ads, much like “Got Milk?” did with moustaches later on in its run.
The KFC Colonels
A much more recent example of character success, the KFC Colonels have carved out a niche on television that won’t soon be forgotten. Starting with the impression powerhouse, Darrell Hammond, KFC launched a series of ads that would spawn years (and at the date of publication, shows no signs of stopping). There was even a ranking of the best KFC Colonels in 2017, which already included 17 actors. It’s the kind of campaign that can bring out big comedic talent in a way that television commercials can’t always garner (think of Old Spice for another example). The campaign combines humor, a bit of absurdity, and power of celebrity cameos alongside an already famous character for an easy string of hits.
Inject some star power into your food campaigns with celebrity endorsements
It’s rare to have an ad campaign so synonymous with a certain type of success that it feels intertwined since the beginning. Think of the Super Bowl – “I’m going to Disney World” is such a famous refrain because Disney chose to advertise following the Super Bowl with winning NFL players.
Much in this same vein, Wheaties is synonymous with athletic excellence. Pair a powerful slogan (“The Breakfast of Champions”) with powerful people like Olympians, baseball players, and other famous athletes, and the hope is that buyers make the connection between success in athletics with eating Wheaties.. Plus, it’s a win for athletes who get the gold, because they rely on those endorsements after their wins to make the real money. Being “on a Wheaties box” is a metaphor for making it in sports.
Pepsi pairs perfectly with pop stars
Whether you remember Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, or Beyonce, you can’t argue that Pepsi knows how to gain brand leverage from pop stars. Pepsi even owns the Super Bowl halftime show.
The brand is so synonymous with pop music that you may not even notice how well it works. Pepsi started equating its product with youth culture in the 1960s and never looked back. Chances are, you can recall a particularly memorable Pepsi commercial starring the pop star from your formative years.
Tony Hawk and Tim and Eric acknowledge absurdity in Totino’s Commercials
Totino’s commercials haven’t been afraid to push the envelope, especially in recent years, with advertisements from Tim and Eric, former absurdist sketch show stars. Tony Hawk did a relatively normal commercial for Totino’s Pizza Bites back in 2002, and in the name of nostalgia, he decided to bring back a more tongue-in-cheek version in 2019. While he may have been deemed a sell-out in 2002, Tony Hawk has since been identified as not only a skateboarding legend, but a Twitter phenom, and it was right on brand for Totino’s to bring him back for another round.
Tony Hawk has that unique ability to evolve with the times. A pro skateboarder who had the gift of being able to recognize genius marketing opportunities when he saw them, Hawk transitioned his fame into a hugely popular video game, a reinvigorated love for extreme sports, and a “sellout” campaign for pizza bagels.
Give your customers something to sing in the grocery aisles
“I’d like to buy the world a Coke”
If you didn’t see it when it first came out, you may have seen it in Mad Men, or recent Super Bowl ad slots, or in an Intro to Advertising class. It’s often cited as the “world’s most famous ad,” and it very well could be. The ad was shot in 1971 and was the most expensive ever at the time ($250k, pretty small in today’s Super Bowl standards).
The ad’s creator actually came up with the original radio jingle after getting stuck at an airport, and thinking about how sharing a moment over a Coke could bring people together. The song became a hit people wanted to hear on the radio, not just when it was an advertisement, and the television commercial soon followed to unbelievable success. When was the last time you heard about a company receiving 100,000 happy letters over an ad?
Two Oscar Mayer Jingles
Oscar Mayer doesn’t just have one catchy jingle, but two! If you know the follow-up to “I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener,” or, “My bologna has a first name,” you’re in good company.
Lucky for Oscar Mayer, the songwriter who created the first jingle submitted it to the company in an open contest and wrote it the night before the deadline. Because of this last-minute addition to the contest, a year later, his jingle was chosen and used for 45 years.
The Oscar Mayer bologna jingle was equally catchy, plus it helped kids learn how to spell b-o-l-o-g-n-a. The 1973 commercial featured a child fishing, singing, and spelling, all while he was waiting to take a bite of his bologna sandwich.
With the brand’s primary colors, the signature Weiner-Mobile, and the ear wormiest of songs, Oscar Meyer had a winning combination to promote their products.
“Wonder if I gave an Oreo”
Oreo is one of those interesting brands: They could probably go without advertising for years and still have consistent sales. But, to their credit, the brand keeps trying new and inventive things to keep people around: From unveiling seasonal flavors, to boasting that you can “dunk in the dark,” to taking a stand to support progressive causes, Oreo is an old company that’s not afraid to think in new ways.
One of their recent successful campaigns for their 101st birthday included the “Wonderfilled” song. One of their longest spots premiered alongside a Mad Men episode, and their campaign even won an Effie Award (the gold standard for advertising). The jingle persisted for a few years, and the whimsy was contagious.
Keep your customers laughing
All the examples in this section are Super Bowl advertisers, and for good reason – Super Bowl ads need to be funny, poignant, or highly unusual to stick in the minds of viewers. The point of spending millions on these coveted spots is to have people continue talking about them the next day. Snickers took this approach with their “You’re not you when you’re hungry” ads.
The campaign has included celebrities like Betty White and GIlbert Gottfried, portraying people not acting like they normally do, because they could use something to eat. While health benefits may be questionable to nonexistent, the argument in favor of Snickers makes for a campaign that’s hard to forget.
Sometimes the best source for your commercials is your own fans. One of Doritos’ best moves was to take some of the ad creation out of their own hands and give it to fans. Fan-created commercials ran for about 10 years and added a competitive and interactive edge to their food campaigns.
Doritos was one of the first brands to introduce user-generated content in this way, which was also recently copied by Yellow Tail. Fan-created content is low-risk, low-cost, and gives fans an opportunity to feel like they’re part of the brand, while adding a powerful piece of creative to their portfolio.
Emerald Nuts played up bizarre humor long before it was the norm with commercials that included the Addicted to Love girls, mythical creatures, Robert Goulet, and almost anything with the initials “E.N.”
Emerald Nuts is a great example of a company that doesn’t care if a wide audience “gets” their commercials – They’re designing their content like in-jokes. If you get it, you are in the club. If not, no big deal. It’s a big wager, but it’s one the company continues to take. A couple years ago, Emerald Nuts turned one of their simplest reviews into a full campaign: “Yes Good,” which they still use as their tagline. Yes good, indeed.
- The best food campaigns incorporate a combination of memorable slogans, celebrity cameos, memorable characters, catchy jingles, and humor to find success with customers.
- “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand” has been called the most-liked slogan in food history.
- DiGiorno used their slogan, “It’s not delivery, it’s DiGiorno,” to directly compete with delivery pizzas, and not frozen ones.
- “Got Milk?” is a clumsy slogan, not something you would normally say in conversation, but the co-creator of the campaign believes that “great taglines are clumsy.”
- Mr. Owl in the Tootsie Roll Pops commercials hasn’t changed since the 1970s, and pairs well with the company’s other vintage candy brands.
- The California Raisins had four albums, an Emmy nomination, and blazed a trail for commercial characters winding up in TV and film.
- The KFC Colonels ads combine celebrity cameos, a distinct character, and humor in an engaging way that keeps people guessing who might be next to don the suit.
- Wheaties uses athletes on boxes to encourage consumers to connect eating Wheaties with being successful.
- Pepsi and pop music have been perfectly paired for decades.
- Totino’s ads have gone in two different humor-laden directions with their Pizza Rolls ads featuring Tim & Eric and their Bagel Bites campaign featuring Tony Hawk.
- The creator of the Coca-Cola radio ad, “I’d LIke to Buy the World a Coke,” came up with the idea when he was stuck in an airport, watching people share moments over Cokes.
- The original Oscar Mayer jingle was chosen as part of a contest, and was used for 45 years.
- Oreo’s “Wonderfilled” campaign was their way of keeping the brand fresh after its 101st birthday.
- Snickers ads harnessed the humor of being not quite yourself when you’re hungry, oftentimes with celebrities, to highlight the humor behind it.
- Doritos used crowdsourced ads for years and effectively leveraged them for Super Bowl campaigns.
- Emerald Nuts is a brand equivalent of an inside joke. They don’t care if their specific type of humor hits everyone the same way, but it exists for the ones who appreciate it.