Product Marketing

Will America’s Newfound Twinkie Obsession Last?

True confession. I don’t like Twinkies. Never have. I think they’re too sweet. And that cream in the middle is a little unnerving.

And yet, I have been fascinated by the recent fall and subsequent resurrection of Hostess Brands, the makers of Twinkies and other confectionary delights, such as Ho Hos, Ding Dongs, Zingers and Sno Balls.

The company filed for bankruptcy this past year because of a combination of poor management practices, high pension costs and changing consumer preferences, ending production in November.

When word spread of Twinkies’ impending demise, social media channels lit up with bewildered and beleaguered Twinkies devotees.

Soon the golden bars of spongy goodness were being hoarded like real bars of gold from Fort Knox, leading to some pretty outrageous attempts by some to cash in. At one point, more than 1,800 items on eBay contained the word, “Twinkie,” including a listing seeking $1 million for rights to the Internet domain “I like a Twinkie.” (There are about 17 days left to bid on that one, for anyone who’s interested.)

Twinkie-mania finally led the private equity firm Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos & Co. to buy Hostess’ cake division in March for $400 million.

Fast-forwarded to Monday (July 15, 2013), in which the crushing onslaught of media coverage and social media interest heralded the triumphant return of the snack cakes – cue Al Roker riding on the back of the Twinkie Mobile – with the term “Twinkies,” becoming a United States trending topic on Twitter.

A passing fancy?

But is America’s newfound Twinkie obsession nothing more than a passing fancy?

Twinkies’ new owners are spending millions on a marketing blitz that incorporates social media, billboards, media relations, street teams and a website – FeedYourCakeFace.com, which asks Twinkie lovers to share their first bite of Twinkies, CupCakes and other Hostess’ snacks with the rest of America, using Vine or Instagram and the hashtag #CakeFace. The ad campaign created for the Twinkies re-launch also has a fresher, more in-your-face sensibility with the tagline, “The Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever.”

The Chicago Tribune reported that Hostess now has an ambitious new business strategy, which intends to have Twinkies sold “wherever candy bars are sold.”

“We want to capitalize on the nostalgia of the brand, but we also want to make sure we’re relevant to this generation and not just the generations of the past,” said Rich Seban, Hostess president.

To do this, the company has changed its target demographic. Time reported that Twinkies are not necessarily for kids’ lunch boxes anymore. The new target: young adult males, a.k.a. “bros.”

“We want to go beyond just the loyal fans to some of those people who should be fans,” said Dave Lubeck, executive vice president at advertising agency Bernstein-Rien, which created Hostess’ new advertising campaign. “So we’re really trying to move beyond the grocery store consumers into the c-store target, which is a younger male.”

Why does this conjure of images of college frat boys with cold pizza and warm beer?

Going after the young-male demographic could be a risky proposition for Hostess. For years, Burger King employed the same strategy, but the fast-food chain began to stumble,  prompting Burger King to reach out to women and older consumers with some success.

A Smaller, Longer-Lasting Twinkie

To the dismay of some fans, the resurrected Twinkies are a bit smaller with a box of 10 Twinkies now weighing 13.58 ounces, compared to the previous weight of 15 ounces. Company executives say that change was made before the new owners took over. On the flip side, the new Twinkies last a lot longer, with a 45-day shelf life now, instead of the 26-day shelf life they previously had.

There also are plans in the works to introduce new products that are lighter on calories and possibly gluten free. And don’t rule out new treats flavored with peanut butter or packaged in bite-sized portions.

But the question still remains: Will the hype over Twinkies last? Will we be talking about Twinkies next summer, or will they once again be relegated to the back of the pantry with the Ramen noodles and cans of tuna?

The jury’s still out on that one.

 

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About Jeff Wilson:

Jeff Wilson, APR is senior director of business development and agency marketing at PadillaCRT. Jeff has earned some of the PR industry’s most prestigious awards, including PRSA Silver and Bronze Anvils, a PRSA Health Academy Innovation Award and an IABC Gold Quill. He was named one of PRWeek’s “2008 Top 40 Under 40” as well as one of Richmond’s “2007 Top 40 Under 40” by Style Weekly.

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