Marketing All Star: Tom Bick

Tom Bick has a resume that would make Homer Simpson jealous. His second job out of college was with Miller Brewing Co., where he first worked in analytics/research and then led the Miller Lite brand. His job after that was with Hill Holliday in Boston, at which he counted Dunkin Donuts as his primary client. And when he moved back to the client side with Oscar Mayer, Bick found himself knee deep in bacon, figuratively speaking. Told that beer/donuts/bacon constitutes a dream trifecta for many animate beings of the male persuasion, Bick responds with a deadpan, “Well, I guess it explains why I haven’t lost any weight.”

Left unsaid, of course, is that managing brands in hotly competitive categories like beer and mass-market foodstuffs tilts more towards “challenging” than “fun.” Reconsidered in that context, Bick could make a pretty good case for himself as one of the industry’s toughest brand mavens, one who has tackled three difficult tasks and come out on top each time.

With no disrespect to his work on either Miller Lite or Dunkin Donuts, Bick’s recent work reengineering the nostalgia-laden Oscar Mayer brand for the social-media era may be his greatest success yet. When a recruiter connected him with the Oscar Mayer folks towards the end of his fifth year at Hill Holiday, he was intrigued but wondered about the road ahead.

“On one hand, it was a great opportunity to be an ad director on a brand that has such great history,” he recalls. “On the other, it maybe felt a little sleepy. If you had asked me what Oscar Mayer’s current campaign was, I wouldn’t have known. All that came to mind was the kid fishing on the pier and ‘my bologna has a first name…’ and the Wienermobile.”

Nearly four years ago, he took the plunge, joining as senior director, integrated marketing and advertising. As befitting someone with a research background, Bick’s first act was to take a step back and conduct a sober-minded, metrics-supported state-of-the-brand assessment. What he found surprised him, in that the brand evolution was slightly further along than he expected.

“It was the approach that felt a little off,” he says. “It felt dated to me. It was too rooted down in the expected. It wasn’t provocative.” At the same time, he worried that Oscar Mayer had been placed in what he terms “the death quadrant” in consumers’ minds. “You know — everybody knows you and thinks they have perfect knowledge of who you are, but they’re not interested in you.”

To that end, Bick set about injecting the Oscar Mayer brand with grit, energy and even a little swagger. The goal: To make it feel like a brand of the times, to connect with consumers in a real way rather than perpetuating myths about the perfection of the family unit. For inspiration, Bick and his team of agencies looked to a source outside the world of online media: ABC’s “Modern Family.”

“[The show] does such a good job in depicting family in all its imperfection and messiness,” he says. For the Oscar Mayer Selects line of deli meats, which have no artificial preservatives, the brand introduced the Mayer Family and the mom-targeted tagline, “in a world of ‘nos,’ you can say ‘yes.’”

Then came the bacon. Believing that Oscar Mayer had been hesitant in its digital efforts, Bick challenged digital AOR 360i to “blow [his] socks off.” Among the ten ideas that the firm came back with was “The Great Bacon Barter,” in which one hardy individual bartered his way across the country using bacon alone. The idea, executed for around $600,000, proved an immediate social-media hit. “The response we got was, ‘Holy crap, I never saw that coming from Oscar Mayer.’”

Duly emboldened — and a bit anxious about the follow-up campaign — Bick and his team returned with “Say It With Bacon” (for Father’s Day, OM cheekily redefined bacon as the gem of meats) and then “Wake Up and Smell the Bacon” (in which it devised what is believed by anthropologists to be the first-ever bacon alarm clock). Taken together, the three campaigns reinvented the Oscar Mayer brand for older audiences and established it as smart and funny in the minds of younger ones.

That’s the charge for Oscar Mayer going forward: to maintain its bacon-fueled digital dominance while simultaneously remaining one of the CPG world’s most beloved family brands. Bick plans to meet that challenge by continuing to up Oscar Mayer’s content game.

“What I’ve learned is, especially online, you have to respect that covenant between the brand and the consumer: ‘I’m going to give you something of value in the form of entertainment or a poignant story, in return I ask for your attention,’” he explains. “The content we create has to be as good as the content it’s placed on or around.”

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