In a decided departure from campaigns featuring its two-year-old "Hans Strudel" brand mascot and his fairy tale-like island of "Breakfürg," Toaster Strudel's new summer TV spots feature extreme close-ups of typical-looking kids blissfully savoring the pastries, unconcerned about the icing and fruit filling spilling onto their little faces.
For instance, in one spot, "Mom's Theory," a camera pans in on the strudel and the little girl eating it, as a female voiceover says: "My theory is pretty simple: happiness before cleanliness."
There are also three other 15-second ads with narration by the same "mom" voice (a shot from one called "Perfect Moment" is shown above). All of the ads end with her delivering the tagline: "Gooey, flaky, happy Toaster Strudel."
In addition to airing on national networks and cable through the season, the spots will gain exposure through digital and banner advertising and the brand's social channels.
Saatchi & Saatchi NY, Toaster Strudel's agency of record since the early 2000s, produced the new creative, as well as the Hans Strudel mascot and campaigns.
In August 2013, John Williams III, the brand's marketing manager at the time, described the Hans launch campaign to Advertising Age as "one of the largest campaigns that we will have within the company." Toaster Strudel followed up with a summer 2014 campaign that promoted a new "more fruit" recipe through a partnership with the Fruit Ninja video game, a new Hans TV spot, and other elements.
Asked about the absence of the Hans mascot in the latest creative, Emily Wilcox, SVP and management director at Saatchi & Saatchi NY, emailed Marketing Daily that "while Hans Strudel was a campaign and a character we loved, this year we decided to focus on what it is that makes this product so very magical in the first place — the joy it brings to kids. Because for our moms, [their] kids' happiness is [their] happiness.”
Asked to clarify if that means that the General Mills/Pillsbury brand is dropping the mascot from its marketing, a spokesperson for the agency stated that while it's understandable that the mascot's absence "might raise eyebrows," there's "nothing official as far as [the] designated mascot goes" and the new creative "doesn't mean that anything is being retired or not" — "simply that these are the spots that will be used over the next few months." He added that "it isn't uncommon to see brands take a different approach every now and then."
The Hans Strudel mascot has attracted a fair share of posts and social comments describing the character as annoying, or even creepy.
In a post titled "Toaster Strudel Boy: Sweet Kid or Homicidal Maniac?," Jane Boursaw of the Reel Life With Jane blog (part of the BlogHer network) wrote: "There are so many questions surrounding this campaign. Did General Mills not run it on test subjects before investing millions of dollars on its success? Did the test subjects actually like this kid? Did General Mills embed a subliminal message in Strudel Boy to make us run to the store and buy several packages? After the commercial ended, did Strudel Boy use black magic to beam the American family off to his mountain home where he reenacted the final scenes of 'Carnival of Souls'?"
Tom Dougherty, founder, CEO and senior strategist at global brand company Stealing Share, says that only the brand and agency know what the overall reaction to the mascot has been. However, based on Hans's absence in the new ads — and data showing that Toaster Strudel's sales declined by more than 1% in the last full year — "it seems clear that the mascot didn't connect with people or cause them to buy the product," he observes.
Dougherty adds that in his view, the new creative approach also lacks a compelling emotional connector and brand differentiator.
"For today's parents, there are many, nuanced emotional issues about what it means to be a good parent and what defines a 'happy' kid" that brands can try to tap into, he says. But given wide awareness that excessive sugar contributes to diabetes and other health problems, "making your kids giggle by doing things that are bad for them" isn't an attitude that's likely to resonate with most parents, he contends.
"But let's assume that for some reason I don't believe that being a good parent involves motivating my kids to do things that they don't want to do but are good for them and will arguably make them 'happier' in the long term," Dougherty continues. "And let's also assume that I derive joy from seeing my kids make a mess while they're eating, because I equate messiness with happiness. There's still no brand differentiator, because they would look just as happy, and they could probably make an even bigger mess, if I fed them sugary cereal or cream-filled donuts. What's the motivator to buy Toaster Strudel rather than the many other options for your kids?"
Dougherty suggests that positioning the product as a treat reserved for Saturdays ("so they don't go to school with a sugar high") might be one, more reality-based approach to parents.
He's also quick to say that he finds the advertising for Kellogg's Pop-Tarts equally "meaningless." The difference, as he also pointed out in a recent blog post, is that Pop-Tarts is by far the leader in the pastry category (primarily because, unlike frozen Toaster Strudel, pre-baked Pop-Tarts don't necessarily have to be toasted; they can also be eaten cold, on the go, and as a snack). As the leader, with dominant retail shelf space, all Pop-Tarts has to accomplish with its advertising is to "remind" consumers of the brand, he says. Toaster Strudel, however, has either to differentiate itself from Pop-Tarts effectively enough to grab market share, or convince new consumers to eat its pastries for breakfast.
Going up against Pop-Tarts is no small challenge, particularly given its knack for frequent launches of new varieties. Last September, The Wall Street Journal reported that despite the strong trend toward "better for you" and high-protein breakfast foods, Pop-Tarts has seen uninterrupted sales growth for 32 years.
Toaster Strudel's sales also declined 1.1%, to $204 million, in the 52 weeks ending July 14, 2013, as Pop-Tarts' rose 5% to $668 million, according to IRI. For full calendar year 2013, IRI reported that Pop-Tarts' sales rose 3.9%, to more than $800 million. Households with children ages 6 to 17 are the biggest buyers of Pop-Tarts, but teens eat them more often than children under 12, Kellogg told WSJ.
Up against the Pop-Tarts juggernaut, Quaker and Nabisco discontinued their lines of competing breakfast pastries, and General Mills discontinued a Fiber One Toaster Pastry targeted to adults.