Marketing Lessons from the Hostess Twinkie

Marketing Lessons from the Hostess Twinkie

On Dec. 10, the last batch of Hostess Twinkies went on sale accompanied by moans, groans and a “Save the Twinkie” Facebook campaign from the cream-filled cake’s devoted fans. Hostess Brands, the company that baked Twinkies, had declared bankruptcy and liquidated.

But as deaths go, the Twinkie’s was short-lived. On Monday, it’s scheduled to reappear on store shelves.

The new Twinkies will come in a box that looks just like the old one. They’ll be made with the same recipe and carry the same price tag – $3.99 for 10 cellophane-wrapped cakes. The only thing truly new will be owner.

The future of the Hostess Twinkie and what its new owner, Apollo Global Management, can do to ensure its success has prompted a lot of chat and debate among marketing professionals in the blogosphere.

Reading their observations about branding and positioning options made me realize: A lot of the questions they’re raising about the Twinkie we should be asking about our own businesses, products and services.

  • Are we making sure we’re relevant to an audience that will sustain us for years to come?
  • If attracting new customers requires changing our brand, look or product, do we risk losing existing customers?
  • Can we appeal to new customers simply by reaching out to them through different channels and with different messages?

Hostess Twinkies are 82 years old. They have that profitable nostalgia factor going for them but, “Their nostalgic consumer demographic is getting old,” Stuart Leslie, president of 4sight Inc., told Adweek.

And as the Adweek story also pointed out, our youngest generation of adults are the green, organic and health-conscious Millennials. That group likely won’t naturally gravitate to the little sponge cake’s plethora of unnatural ingredients.

Apollo hopes to satisfy old fans by ensuring everything about the Twinkie is just as it was when they last saw it – taste, packaging, price.

To reach out to those youngsters, Twinkie marketers plan to hit social media hard with a hip, new interactive campaign. On the Hostess Cakes website, there’s already a giant countdown clock displaying the hours, minutes and seconds until the Twinkie rises from the dead.

“The clock is ticking. And when it reads septuple zeros, the greatest treats the world has ever known will triumphantly return,” the copy reads. “Join the countdown by entering your email. … We’ll send you an official notification the second we’re back in stores.”

What a great way to capture addresses for future marketing!

The clock also appears on another website, Prepare Your Cakeface. This one urges Twinkies lovers to use Vine, a mobile app for posting video on Twitter, or Instagram, an app for videos and photos, and share them on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #Cakeface. (Using the hashtag makes it easy to find all the posts.)

Use Vine and you might get a free “Prepare Your Cakeface” T-shirt. A Tweet from The You Generation, a YouTube channel that hosts global video talent contests, promises to follow back Twitter users who post the best #Cakeface shots. The You Generation has more than 30,000 followers, so a “follow back” is a sweet reward for anyone trying to build a big Twitter audience.

The Cakeface campaign appears to be getting some traction from the younger set. Search the hashtag on Twitter and you’ll see plenty of young adults with cake-smeared faces.

In addition, the Hostess owners have said they may create some new, health-conscious Twinkie versions, such as gluten-free or low-fat. That could backfire, though. As we’ve seen with many big brands, from Coke to JCPenney, loyal customers often despise change.

It remains to be seen whether Twinkies will have the incredible shelf life of urban legend, which says they’re so full of artificial additives, they never rot. Will the little cakes endure for years to come? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, the marketing surrounding the Twinkie’s comeback provides us with some good reminders:

Has your product, service or business remained largely unchanged for years, and if so, is that a good thing or a negative? If it appeals to older adults, should you be trying something new to make it appealing to the younger crowd?

Have you taken a look at your audience lately? Are you reaching out to everyone who might have an interest in what you’re offering?

And finally, is your messaging relevant to the needs and values of the people you’re trying to reach, and are you using the right channels to speak to them? Radio, TV, newspapers and magazines (both print and online), and social media each have different demographics.

To get the maximum visibility and the most prospective customers, customize your message for each audience and reach out to them via the media they rely on.

Sweet!
Marsha

About Marsha Friedman
Marsha Friedman launched EMS Incorporated in 1990. Her firm represents corporations and experts in a wide array of fields such as business, health, food, lifestyle, politics, finance, law, sports and entertainment. She consults individuals and businesses on a daily basis and is frequently asked to speak at conferences about how to harness the power of publicity. Outside of the office, she is also the founder of a non-profit organization called the Cherish the Children Foundation. In 1996 the White House recognized her charity which sets out to raise awareness of the plight of underprivileged and foster children.

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