Thursday, May 26, 2011

True stories of a real Mad Man: A firm pickle is better than a limp one.

True stories of 
a real Mad Man: 

A firm pickle is better than a limp one." ©Joel Baumwoll

My string as President ran out at Needham some time in 1984, when Keith Reinhart came to New York as CEO.

It wasn't long before I was promoted to Vice Chairman and parachuted from the 11th floor of 909 Third Avenue to my fourth career as a marketing consultant.

Pete Tannen, a friend since high school who shared an irreverent view of the world and listened to Jean Shepherd as a kid, joined me and we founded Baumwoll & Tannen Associates, Inc.  Phil Dougherty, the New York Times ad columnist, called us "The Product Doctors."

July 25, 1985

ADVERTISING; 'Product Doctors' Open Shop
JOEL BAUMWOLL and Peter Tannen, friends since high school days, are now working together for the first time as Baumwoll & Tannen Associates.

They are marketing and advertising counselors, consultants if you will, and they would be happy to take the time to explain not only what they are up to but also why there are so many marketing consultants around.

If I could convince clients to pay me to do what I was good at and loved doing, what could be better?   

(Pete no longer works with me and, unfortunately, he also refuses to speak to me, but twenty-seven years later I'm still at it.  I call myself "The Brand Doctor.")

One of the best things about my business is the wide variety of products I get to work on.  Dog food, high yield bonds, internet services, beer, universities,  tourist attractions and more make up a vast menu of businesses I've been asked to assist.  

So when the call came to figure out how to position a pickle, I didn't bat an eye.

Claussen Pickles, owned by Oscar Mayer, are different.  They are refrigerated from the moment the cucumber is picked until you fish a pickle from the jar.
The client, Joel Johnson, believed that Claussen deserved more respect than it was getting from pickle buyers.  He figured if Grey Poupon could use clever commercials to convince people that they should pay more for mustard, why wouldn't that work for pickles?
One afternoon. while I was working on this problem, a juicy burger was delivered from Burger Heaven.  I lifted the slice of pickle on the dish by one end and it bent limply down, flaccid and soft.  I wagged my hand and it flopped up and down unappettizingly.  

Retrieving the Claussens from the refrigerator, I did the same with a slice of this cold pickle.  It was stiff, horizontal to the ground and unbending even when wagged.  Holding up my hands with each slice on a fork, the comparison was, well, titillating. 

 A week later we sat in the conference room of Oscar Mayer, surrounded by the top brass and the slightly pissed-off account people from J. Walter Thompson, Claussen's ad agency.  Ad agencies just hate it when clients call in a consultant to do what they think they are best at doing.

My presentation was a simple, but dramatic one.  I started by asking "suppose we could knock Vlassics for a loop by showing people a simple picture and asking them one question?  

Slight pause for drama...and up go my hands with a fork in each.  On the left, a limp, wobbly slice of Vlassics.  On the right, a stiff, firm slice of Claussens.

"Which would you rather have?  A limp pickle or a firm pickle?
Claussen's:  The firm pickle.

Giggles and a sharp intake of breath.  Sidelong glances to see how Joel Johnson was reacting.

He loved the idea.

"Pickles, like bananas, are funny," I said.  "Let's make people laugh a little and we can knock the hell out of Vlassics."

We suggested copy like  "which pickle do you think Lawrence Taylor likes?"  or  "Does Hulk Hogan go for the limp pickle of the firm one?"

We went so far as showing a picture of the popular sex counselor Dr. Ruth, looking at both pickles and giggling.

I recommended that the entire ad budget be put into print ads showing the two pickles side by side.

Several weeks later I arrived at my office at 8 a.m. to find my partner and Steve Liguori, brand manager in our conference room cutting up pickles.  The Georgian rosewood conference table was awash in pickle juice and massacred slices of pickles.  

"What're you doing?" I asked.  Steve explained that the lawyers at Oscar Mayer had not been able to reproduce the side-by-side fork demonstration.  "The Claussen slice keeps sliding off the fork,” he said.  They will kill the campaign."

"Simple," I explained,  "turn the fork so all the points are in the slice."  Voila.  Steve packed his pickles and flew back to Madison, Wisconsin.

Eventually a somewhat tamer version of our strategy was executed by JWT.   The campaign produced big increases in sales.
COMPANY NEWS: Hold the Pickles; Counsel Adds a Twist To Vlasic vs. Claussen

Published: May 30, 1992

 Vlasic, part of the Campbell Soup Company, dominates the $623 million pickle business over all, but Claussen, part of the Philip Morris empire, has stronger sales in the smaller, refrigerated area of the business. And Claussen has been gaining share in supermarket coolers while Vlasic's refrigerated sales have been dropping. Last year, Vlasic's refrigerated sales dropped 20 percent, to $15.2 million, while Claussen gained 11 percent.
Joel Johnson sent us a wonderful letter complimenting the job we had done.

On the wings of pickle victory, Steve was promoted, went on to be a Vice President at Frito Lay, CEO of Mother's Cookies, the top man at CitiBank Retail Banking, CMO at Morgan Stanley and is currently the #2 marketing guy at GE.

Steve and I became close friends, and he has hired me for major projects at Morgan Stanley and GE.

Joel Johnson became CEO or Hormel and hired me several more times.

Me?  I'm still having fun helping clients figure out how to sell more of their products.  Proof that a firm pickle has its benefits.

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