It's been eight months since Hostess announced it was ceasing production on all of its iconic brands, including Twinkies, after more than 80 years in business. The news devastated the brand's nostalgic fans and sparked the launch of a Twinkie black market on eBay, where a single pack of the spongey pastry was going for $5,000 (OK, so maybe that one was a joke).
Starting Monday, however, Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Sno Balls and more of Hostess's nutritionally-challenged treats are returning to store shelves. After acquiring most of the brand's assets for $410 million, the new owners, Metropoulos & Co. and Apollo Global Management, faced a host of challenges preparing for the relaunch. As The Wall Street Journal reported recently, the company did quite a bit of downsizing, reducing the number of factories from 11 to four, the number of employees from 19,000 to 1,800, and outsourcing its entire distribution system.
With operations slimmed down, all that was left was to reintroduce the brand to consumers. For that, Metropoulos and Apollo turned to Hostess's long-term advertising agency, Bernstein-Rein. I spoke with Dave Lubeck, executive vice president of Bernstein-Rein, to find out how a turnaround campaign billed as "The Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever" came together.
Choose a story to tell.
There are plenty of ways to position a comeback. Some brands, like MySpace, for instance, use turnarounds to reinvent themselves. In MySpace's case, the struggling social network resurfaced with Justin Timberlake as its pitchman and an emphasis on music.
Not so, with Hostess. According to Lubeck, the team working on the relaunch decided that this was no time to talk new ingredients and product lines. Instead, they turned the comeback, itself, into the campaign theme, designing the entire strategy around the tagline "The Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever." After all, everyone loves an underdog.
"The branding is, 'We're back,'" Lubeck says. "Will we evolve the branding in the future? Sure. But right now, while there's consumer anticipation around Hostess coming back, we thought, let's talk about that."
The exact phrasing of the tagline, complete with its incorrect grammar, was, Lubeck says, "by design." Because convenience stores are a key market for Hostess and young males are the target demographic for convenience stores, Lubeck explains, "We wanted the language to reflect that young attitude and the way young people talk today, especially on social media."
Start the clock.
A series of outdoor ads, which include billboards in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Hostess's hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, were designed to play up the anticipation of the brand's return, Lubeck says. So they simplified the signs to include just three things: the Hostess logo, a close-up of the product, and "7.15.13," the date of the relaunch.
"We wanted to start the countdown," Lubeck says, adding that on July 15th, those billboards will change to the line, "The Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever."
Give them something to talk about.
Given how young Hostess's target customers are, it was critical to generate buzz on social media. Rather than do all the heavy lifting themselves, though, Bernstein-Rein launched an interactive campaign to attract user-generated content called "Prepare your cakeface" on June 24. The campaign asks fans to record Vine videos of themselves preparing for the return of their favorite treats. Hostess is publishing the videos on PrepareYourCakeFace.com. The brand has also partnered with media outlets like CollegeHumor to promote the CakeFace campaign.
"Let's face it, the fans of Hostess are really the ones who brought the product back. If they hadn't been interested, then how valuable would the product be?" Lubeck says. "We wanted to allow customers to help us celebrate."
So far, that plan appears to be working. Hostess's Facebook page, which has more than 400,000 Likes, has been inundated with posts like: "Already asked for Monday off. It's just gonna be me and you Twinkies" and "I have refused to buy impostor cakes this whole time!!! Hurry up July 15th!!!"
Hit the streets.
The Hostess street team has been promoting the comeback in those major cities since the pre-launch period began on June 24th, recording CakeFace videos and shelling out t-shirts and buttons that read, "I saved Twinkies." Starting Monday, the street teams are also launching a national food truck tour in those cities, giving out free products and spreading the word about the return of Twinkies.
"We felt it was really important to get people involved and feeling like they're part of this comeback, rather than having it be an announcement from some ad agency," Lubeck says. "This is America's icon. We wanted to make them part of it."