Content vs. Marketing: Do You Buy the Product or the Packaging?

August 7, 2019

There was a really interesting article in Fast Company this week: “How Carrots Became the New Junk Food,” by Douglas McGray. (Hat tip to Mark Bittman – this is why it’s good to leave your filter bubble!)

Baby Carrots

It tells the story of the rise of baby carrots in the hearts of America – not actual young carrots, but the little mechanically rounded, ready-to-eat nubbins of carrot you can buy in a bag in the produce section. Real baby carrots look like the image to the right. "Baby carrots" are more like ponies – they don't grow up to be real horses. 

Baby carrots were conceived as a way to reduce costly food waste:

Supermarkets expected carrots to be a particular size, shape, and color. Anything else had to be sold for juice or processing or animal feed, or just thrown away. Yurosek wondered what would happen if he peeled the skin off the gnarly carrots, cut them into pieces, and sold them in bags.

People ate them up. LITERALLY.

They transformed the whole industry. Soon, the big growers in Bakersfield were planting fields with baby carrots in mind, sowing three times more seeds per acre, so the carrots, packed densely together, would grow long and skinny, for the maximum number of 2-inch cuts. Yields and profits climbed. The really big deal, the thing nobody expected, was that baby carrots seemed to make Americans eat more carrots. In the decade after they were introduced, carrot consumption in the United States doubled.

However, a couple of years ago, that growth slowed. Baby carrot sales took a dip and stayed down. It looked like the recession was to blame – people were still buying carrots, but had gone back to buying the regular kind because they’re cheaper. Unpeeled carrots last longer and don’t need to be replaced as frequently. So recently, Bolthouse Farms enlisted Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the edgy agency behind Groupon’s controversial Super Bowl ad and Burger King’s King commercials, to revive baby carrots’ image.   

They decided carrots didn’t need a health-conscious campaign – everyone already knows carrots are healthy. Instead they wanted to take carrots in the opposite direction, and appeal “to impulse rather than responsibility.” In one of the commercials the agency proposed:

A skater dude rides a jet-powered shopping cart through a desert pass, dodging baby-carrot gunfire. Things blow up. There's a pterodactyl. "Extreme pterodactyl!" the voice-over yells.

Crispin CEO Andrew Keller said, "It's about getting baby carrots into a different category." Namely, the junk food category.

The resulting campaign, called “Eat ‘Em Like Junk Food” – the carrots are packaged in small, crinkly bags like potato chips, and with similar styling to what you’d expect to see on a bag of, say, Doritos – has debuted in a few test markets. They’re selling the bags in vending machines. The results look promising.

This brings us back to the fundamental question of what marketing is and does. Binary thinking alert: There are two kinds of marketers, those who think it’s all about the content (i.e. the product), and those who think the content hardly matters – it’s all in how you sell it. Trying to convince kids that baby carrots are junk food strikes me as similar to repackaging legitimate advice into easy-to-digest “dumb list posts,” as Tom used to say, or a linkbait-y shell a la “10 Things Yoda Can Teach Us About Twitter.”

What do you think? Can a good marketer market anything, or does it have to be worth buying in the first place?

Web Marketing Highlights This Week

Ben Horowitz of Ben's Blog wrote about the importance of giving workers actual titles even in a startup environment where roles are fuzzy. He has some really interesting thoughts about how to avoid the Peter Principle by treating promotions more like belts in karate, and Marc Andreessen's idea that titles are cheap: "people ask for many things from a company: salary, bonus, stock options, span of control, and titles. Of those, title is by far the cheapest, so it makes sense to give the highest titles possible ... If it makes people feel better, let them feel better. Titles cost nothing."

In a post called "The ROI of Why," Mike Fleming explains why context is everything when interpreting the data in your web analytics.

For more analytics goodness, here's Scott Cowley on the "Stuff Serious Bloggers Should Remember to Do in Google Analytics."

Danny Sullivan, reigning king of the long, formative SEO think post, wrote about problems with the New York Times' new paywall.

Michael Martinez of SEO Theory talks about the SEO firms that are timing press releases with SEO-related news stories to use Google News in a kind of ambulance chasing scheme.

Amanda Hesser at Food 52 thinks Google's new recipe search is bad for cooks and eaters because it heavily favors big brands and corporate sites than can afford to optimize every recipe and include calorie information over labor-of-love food bloggers who care more about home cooking.

Have you watched the Rebecca Black video yet? Here's Forbes on the vanity record label that churns out this tween crap and how this one went unexpectedly viral.

Have a good weekend!

Image credit: Steven Depolo

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert is WordStream's Director of Content and SEO. Likes include wine, karaoke, poker, ping-pong, perfume, and poetry.