Adam Hanft is the Inc.com Marketing Resource Center columnist.
Interstate Bakeries delayed filing its 10-K yesterday, after having twice delayed its earnings reports. The maker of high-carb, over-processed, won't-decompose-in-landfill staples like Wonder Bread and Twinkies seems to be on the wrong side of the trend tracks.
Is there hope? Some say the company may not survive. Here are five things I would pursue in order to reimagine their business and turn the brands around:
• Embrace nutritional bankruptcy proudly. Don't hide from what you are, or try to adopt a mantle of faux wellness. Run ads that say "Some of the most satifying things on the planet can't be found in Whole Foods Market" and "Proudly contains more preservatives than Dick Clark." (Is it too soon for "The people in the World Trade Center wished they had consumed more carbs? We're three years from 9/11; Mel Brooks waited 20 plus years after the Holocaust for the "Producers"...but with today's time compression, we're not that far off).
The key is to think of yourself as tabloid food. Gen X and Gen Y would resonate to this, as would baby boomers who grew up on these petrochemical sins. There is money to be made by taking on nutritional correctness.
• Extend the embrace of food kitsch to the web and event marketing. Sponsor contests for those who can accurately spell your preservatives and chemical ingredients. Search for the oldest sealed Twinkie in America and have the president of Interstate consume it on national TV. Airlift Twinkies and Wonder Bread into Iraq to show them real American values. Work with IFC and set up Wonder Bread Week, movies exclusively about the fifties. Get involved with
• Epoxy the brand to the culture. Leverage the fact that an iconic Blue Man Group bit has them unwrapping a Twinkie and eating it with a knife and fork. Find celebrities whose secret sin is a Twinkie. Have Michael Graves design a new vending machine that dispenses nothing but Twinkies, in exclusive flavors found nowhere else -- Twinkie Latte, Tahitian Vanilla Twinkie. Offer them free at Target stores to create a new era of Vending Machine Chic. License the name and likeless to Target for apparel.
• Look into Europe. Twinkies and Wonder Bread can become consumer cults there, simultaneously cool and a mockery of American values and bad taste.
• Market to the hip-hop community. Twinkies are there already -- the term means cool automobile wheels in rap-speak: R Kelly writes: "We used to get money together, phone honies together; Pushin chromed out twinkies in custom coach leather." Also, many rappers grew up on the nutrition of Twinkies; Twinkies and hip-hop are all over the Internet. And then there's Russell Simmons oft-quoted remark: "You can't roll around in the bed, eat Twinkies and drink wine and be a pleasure seeker, and be successful." How about a Twinkie's and wine entrepreneurial seminar? Rap can actually make Twinkies cool.
Is this going to happen? Doubtful. The company is run by bakers, not builders.
(NOTE: Adam Hanft writes "No One Asked Me, But" as often as a corrective idea strikes him, roughly once a week, and he will be responding to bloggers as soon as humanly possible.)