Company: Tillamook County Creamery Association
Event: Late Night Comfort Call
Objectives: Generate brand awareness and media attention to the tune of roughly 20 million social-media impressions.
Strategy: Create a personal and memorable campaign targeting well-known chefs and media reps at Feast Portland (only 200 of the event's 9,000 attendees) that tempts them to taste Tillamook cheese and to then sing its praises to the masses.
Tactics: Deliver gourmet, made-to-order grilled-cheese sandwiches to VIPs between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. Give out branded phones to these 200 VIPs prior to the activation to allow them to place their orders.
Results: Distributed 400 sandwiches, double the amount anticipated. Bypassed the goal for social-media impressions by 34 percent, ultimately generating almost 29 million impressions.
Creative/Production Agency: Henry V, www.henryvevents.com
Budget: Less than $49,000
hen behemoth brands are shouting, how does one little dairy co-op get its voice heard? If you're the Tillamook County Creamery Association, you don't try to "out-shout" the competition. Rather, you whisper in the ears of industry influencers and then stand back as they do the hollering for you.
Oregon-based Tillamook, a farmer-owned diary co-operative most noted for its cheddar cheese, did just that at Bon Appétit Presents Feast Portland: A Celebration of Oregon Bounty. Instead of shouting – that is, buying big-buck sponsorships and plastering the event with more logos than a NASCAR track – Tillamook created what it called a "whisper campaign" that targeted 200
of the festival's 9,000 attendees.
But the personal and memorable nature of the campaign, paired with its 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. timeframe when big brands were snoozing, prompted these 200 food-industry movers and shakers to brandish their bullhorns. During and after the one-of-a-kind event, they took to the social-media airwaves, tweeting and posting news of the campaign and praise for Tillamook to the entire foodie industry (an audience far larger than Feast Portland's attendance) – ultimately churning up almost 29 million social-media impressions for the little dairy co-op.
So what got the who's who of Feast Portland talking – and that took home the Judge's Choice Award, the Corporate Event Awards top honor? Well, it all revolved around a simple snack chock-full of gooey goodness: a grilled-cheese sandwich.
A Cagey Little Co-op
Tillamook's sandwich-centric campaign, however, was anything but "cheesy," and neither is the co-op's overall marketing strategy. Sure, just like most other dairy brands, it produces products such as butter, sour cream, yogurt, ice cream, and of course, cheese. "But Tillamook is a 105-year-old, farmer-owned co-op made up of almost 100 farm families, and every ounce of work we do is rooted in quality and integrity," says John Russell, senior director of marketing at Tillamook.
And its marketing department follows suit, according to Katja Asaro, managing director at Henry V, the Portland firm that developed and executed Tillamook's campaign. "Tillamook is not an aggressive, in-your-face brand," Asaro says.
"It doesn't beg for attention or lower its standards to score a sale. Rather, it's smart and authentic. Its marketing is clever and effective. It will catch you off guard but never offend. We like to call it farm-style goodness with a wink."
One example of this strategy is Tillamook's series of mobile tasting tours, which bring its products to the people in adorable Volkswagen-brand buses that have been altered to resemble a small block of Tillamook cheese, which it calls a "loaf." The original iteration, i.e., the Loaf Love Tour, launched in 2009. It centered on recipe, coupon, and sample distribution via the little buses, which were parked outside grocery stores in eight states. The couldn't-miss concept put coupons in consumers' hands and cheese in their mouths directly in front of the venues within
which they could purchase the product. It was a playful yet savvy strategy that worked straight out of the gate and continues to score big dividends to date.
Tillamook's wink-worthy approach also extends to its target-market choices. While it pursues specific segments within the consumer market, including overworked moms, ethical eaters, foodies, etc., it also goes after the trade side of the food industry, including restaurant owners and chefs as well as media reps. The idea is that if Tillamook can get its cheese onto a menu, the restaurant becomes a mass-sampling venue. Customers get a chance to taste and appreciate the product, and as a result they are more likely to seek it out in the grocery stores. Plus, if Tillamook can reach the press and get media reps to experience the cheese as well, it feels that the quality of its products will then prompt these people to promote the brand to the masses.
And that's where Feast Portland comes in. Comprising 38 events at 23 venues across the city, the four-day festival has only been around since 2012, but that hasn't stopped it from taking a bite out of the foodie spotlight. In fact, Fodor's Travel (a division of Random House LLC) named it one of North America's top 15 food festivals in 2013. And this national acclaim – and the attendees that it draws – is exactly what appealed to Tillamook.
Feast attracts consumers for sure, but it also brings in the who's who of the food and beverage industry. It appeals to food-industry bloggers, media representatives, and various influencers. And of course, it features a ton of world-renowned chefs, wine aficionados, and restaurant owners that are there not only to offer their food for tasting but also to compete in various competitions, including everything from the Best Butcher Contest to the Fishmonger Face-off. "Feast is the Pacific Northwest version of the Pebble Beach Food & Wine festival, but Feast removed the snobbery and infused a grungy, trendy vibe," Asaro says.
Participating in Feast, then, was a no-brainer for Tillamook. But given its meager $30,000 budget and mild brand attributes, big-buck sponsorships and over-the-top marketing tactics were a no-go. So Tillamook approached Henry V with a mighty mandate: Create a memorable activation at Feast that would somehow put Tillamook cheese into the mouths of 200 VIPs without going fisticuffs with the behemoths, most of which had anted up for spendy sponsorships. And above all, create a wink-worthy experience to get these influencers talking and ultimately to create
a multitude of media impressions for the brand.
A Delicious Idea
Grabbing this mandate by the horns, the team at Henry V began brainstorming. "We analyzed the event looking for any time during the four days when the bigger brands quieted down," Asaro says. "We realized that the only time when they weren't barking was between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. This timeframe wasn't ideal, but we knew we could come up with something to make it work."
But what kind of activation could Tillamook deploy in that time slot, following the big-budget parties and promotions hosted by its competitors? "We asked ourselves what one of these VIPs might want from us after they'd been eating, drinking, and working for hours on end?" Asaro says. "Clearly, another event to attend was not the answer. Instead, we figured they would want our experience, whatever that might be, to come to them – perhaps in a hotel room or even at an after-hours party. And what could Tillamook deliver that would soothe their souls at this time of night? A delicious grilled- cheese sandwich, of course!"
And so, the Late Night Comfort Call was born. Tillamook would somehow hand deliver grilled-cheese sandwiches – the perfect late-night treat to soothe the soul and the tummy – to VIPs on the second and third nights of the event (the same days as the Grand Tasting, the festival's main draw). But one question remained: How would this group of people learn of the campaign and later place their sandwich order?
"We had to find a way to tell them about the Comfort Call and for them to let us know where they were and when they wanted their sandwiches," Asaro says. "Plus, we wanted to give people something tangible from Tillamook besides a consumable sandwich. Other companies doled out expensive items such as high-end knives and KitchenAid mixers. We didn't want to battle with that, but we wanted VIPs to know we were in the same ring with the big guys."
The answer was another Tillamook wink: the Tillaphone. Henry V purchased 200 flip phones, loaded them with 60 minutes of text and call time, and attached an orange sticker bearing the word "Tillaphone" in the co-op's orange hue. "These things would be the Bat Phones our target audience would use to order a grilled-cheese sandwich," Asaro says. "Once we got the phones in the hands of VIPs, they could call us and place their Comfort Call orders. But beyond their usefulness, the phones were also nostalgic and memorable. The minute we handed people one of these, they'd surely remember it fondly or at least wonder what we were doing. Either way, we'd get their full attention."
Finally, Tillamook worked with Feast management to secure a custom sponsorship, which provided the co-op access to the names of the top 200 chefs and influencers and their whereabouts during the festival, as well as a small booth at the Grand Tasting. This booth would provide a valuable consumer presence at a minimal cost, but it would also give Tillamook staff a chance to connect with some of the event's VIP participants.
So with high hopes, 200 flip phones, and enough grilled-cheese fixings to generate an after-hours feeding frenzy, Tillamook set out for Feast to test its delicious idea.
Phoning it In
On opening day, 24 hours before the Grand Tasting and the launch of Tillamook's campaign, Tillamook staff arrived on site. Dressed in blue T-shirts featuring a newly developed Late Night Comfort Call logo, staff fanned out to all of the day's events, hunted down VIPs, and handed them a Tillaphone. Each staffer explained that recipients could get a grilled-cheese sandwich, cooked to order between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., by pressing the No. 2 speed-dial button. A card attached to each phone reiterated the instructions (in case recipients were too jazzed by the old-fashioned gadget to listen to the spiel) along with instructions to tweet their post-sandwich thoughts using the Tillamook Twitter handle (@TillamookCheese) and campaign hashtag (#comfortcall).
Recipients were no doubt delighted by the phone and the upcoming grilled-cheese delivery, but the delivery method itself screamed "preferential treatment" and scored big points with recipients, according to Asaro. "It was sorta like we were saying, 'Psst. Yup, you. Here's a secret phone. Now you get a whole different experience than everyone else around you. Yeah, that's right. Tillamook thinks you're special."
While staff delivered most of the Tillaphones in this manner, the majority of the targeted bloggers and media representatives didn't have a dedicated presence at any of the events. So to ensure they were part of the fun, Tillamook paid host hotels to drop Tillaphones, along with a personalized note explaining the experience, in their hotel rooms.
After distributing all of the phones, Tillamook and Henry V staff prepped their kitchen, a makeshift catering system set up in the office of Henry V near downtown Portland. In addition, the team scheduled a series of text messages, which would be delivered to the Tillaphones at specific times during the next two days.
The first night of the campaign, Tillamook sent this message at 8 p.m.: "Don't forget to make your Late Night Tillamook #ComfortCall tonight from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.!" Then, the staff sat back, crossed their fingers, and waited for the phones to ring. And sure enough, shortly after 11 p.m., the lines lit up, and Late Night Comfort Call staff sprang into action.
A Comfort Call operator positioned in the makeshift kitchen answered VIP calls with, "Welcome to Tillamook's Late Night Comfort Call. How would you like your grilled-cheese sandwich?" The activation included a choice of three slightly different sandwiches each night, including the Triple Treat (Tillamook's Colby-Jack, Extra-Sharp Vintage White, and Sharp-Cheddar cheeses served on sourdough) and the Sweet and Spicy BBQ (Sharp Cheddar and Pepper Jack with caramelized onions, BBQ sauce, and bacon on sourdough). However, people could order whatever type of grilled cheese they wanted as long as Tillamook had the ingredients. Once the order was placed and the caller's location was noted, the team began crafting the sandwich.
"The packaging and delivery, however, were an unexpected challenge for us," Asaro says. "We had to prepare sandwiches with the perfect mix of melted cheese on the inside and crispy bread on the outside. But then we had to deliver them, not simply place them on a plate. And with this audience, every single sandwich had to look, smell, and taste perfect." In addition, Tillamook felt the only delivery vehicle befitting the experience was one of the VW buses used on its Loaf Love Tour. Problem was, since most buses were on tours, only one was available; plus, none of them went more than 40 miles per hour.
"It was all a bit tricky," Asaro says. "But with a few trial runs and test sandwiches prior to the event, we figured out what transport and delivery containers worked best. And we used a series of delivery vans to transport the sandwiches the bulk of the distance, and the VW bus to take them the rest of the way."
So kitchen staff packed the sandwiches in a heated container for transport, and placed it in the back of a delivery van. The van then sped across town to the bus, where the delivery person – sporting a Late Night Comfort Call T-shirt – placed each sandwich in a cardboard takeout box and sealed it with a branded Late Night Comfort Call sticker featuring the same tweet-related instructions found on the Tillaphone cards. The delivery person then stuffed each boxed sandwich into a similarly branded brown paper bag, and away went the VW bus, headed for the VIP's location. Upon arrival, staff sought out the VIP and hand delivered the made-to-order sandwich. From order to delivery, the process took less than 40 minutes.
"Most of the deliveries were made to hotel rooms, but we also delivered to some restaurants and bars," Asaro says. "In fact, one VIP called from a restaurant 'after-party' and ordered 30 sandwiches for himself and his 29 new best friends."
During each delivery, Tillamook didn't simply drop the sandwiches and run. Rather, the staffer thanked recipients for participating in Tillamook's Late Night Comfort Call, and encouraged them to either give their flip phone to one of their friends – a sort of pay-it-forward tactic that would extend the campaign's reach – or to turn it in to the front desk at one of the host hotels. (The company didn't want the flip phone back as much as it hoped to recycle the phones as opposed to sending them straight to a landfill.)
Finally, before leaving, the staffer gave each recipient an unexpected "morning after" goodie bag that contained a bottle of Oregon spring water, a Tillamook yogurt, and a granola bar. While the bag was a nice (and memorable) surprise, it also gave Tillamook a second touchpoint with recipients the next morning.
On the second day of the event, Tillamook repeated the strategy and continued its text communication with Tillaphone recipients. For example, at 11 p.m. it sent this message: "You there!? We're standing by to take your grilled cheese order! Dial 2 now!" And at 2 a.m., Tillamook issued its final text of the night: "Last call for grilled cheese is at 3 a.m.! Make your #Comfort
Call now by dialing 2 on your Tillaphone."
Meanwhile, starting on day one and continuing for a couple of days after the event, VIPs picked up their own phones and started tweeting, prompted by the "@TillamookCheese" and "#ComfortCall" stickers on all of the packaging. One tweet read: "Just scarfed a bomb classic grilled cheese delivered from @TillamookCheese #comfortcall #latenightfoodiecall via my Tillaphone." And Whole Foods, a major event sponsor, tweeted: "They were amazing!! #ComfortCall made many folks at our hotel very, very happy! #FeastPDX."
By 3 a.m. on the first night of the event, Tillamook knew the campaign would be a success. But within a couple of days after the event, it realized that the tactic had blown all of its goals right out of the water. While the co-op hoped to deliver 200 sandwiches, it doubled that, actually distributing 400 sandwiches over two days. "We reached the 200 people we went after," Asaro says. "But these people ordered sandwiches for friends, who were probably other VIPs not on our list, and they paid it forward by giving the phones to other people so they, too, could enjoy the sandwich experience."
But more importantly, most of these influencers took to Twitter, raving about Tillamook's experience. A total of 752 individual tweets went out, and given the retweets and tweet views from each VIP's followers, Twitter impressions alone totaled 28,996,967 – surpassing Tillamook's goal by 34 percent. Plus, foodie bloggers picked up the story as well, as news of the experience appeared on Urban Bliss Life, Pechlucks Food Adventures, The Portland Egotist, The Spicy Bee, and Eater PDX.
But wait, there's more. Tillamook brass were pleased, too. "The maelstrom of social-media support we had around our Comfort Call experience beat all of our previous records and expectations," Russell says. "We couldn't be more thrilled with the results of this campaign and how it communicated the Tillamook brand."
And of course, judges also raved about the strategy, calling it "a small but mighty campaign" and touting it as a "personal, brand-appropriate event that was universally appealing." So it just goes to show that you don't need to be a well-known brand with millions in spare change to get your message heard. Sometimes, a whisper and a wink are all it takes.