How Chobani keeps the culture of innovation alive

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Chobani may be America’s favorite yogurt brand, but it aspires to stand for a lifestyle — by promoting healthy eating and natural living, not just its products.

For this week’s episode of the Digiday Podcast, we had Peter McGuinness, Chobani’s CMO, discuss how the brand’s young, creative and entrepreneurial culture is helping drive it in that direction as well as Chobani’s approach to content. Having had a 20-year long agency stint under his belt, he also spoke about the differences he’s observed between the brand and agency side of things.

Some edited highlights:

How Chobani maintains a “culture” of innovation
Chobani takes inspiration from food trends, grocery store aisles and, most of all, people, said McGuinness. So they’ve introduced oat-based yogurts for the breakfast segment and flip-cups for lunch.

“The Chobani way is a little bit faster, a little bit more agile, a little bit more creative, and slightly less disciplined — in a good way. Because that keeps everything going and fresh and interesting. We call it our D, N, and A: Delicious, nutritious, accessible/affordable. We derive inspiration not only in our category but much broader than that.”

What it takes to be a lifestyle brand.
Since its inception, Chobani has played up its use of healthy natural ingredients. It has also advertised that it derives its milk from cows that are not fed hormones  —  demonstrating that in spots in its “To love this life is to live it naturally” campaign this summer. With health and lifestyle becoming such core pursuits for people today, Chobani believes it has a role to play.

“What underpins us is health and wellness — and we do have a little bit of a Mediterranean soul to us. We do have a strong point of view on leading a healthy lifestyle and a healthy life, and food is a part of that. But it’s also about being optimistic and living life to the fullest. I wouldn’t say we’re purely lifestyle, but we’re certainly not product-based either. It’s a bit of both.”

Brands as publishers.
Count McGuinness in the camp that holds that all brands are storytellers. Chobani frequently publishes content on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, and has even started experimenting with Snapchat.

“We’re lucky enough to have strong beliefs that no matter how big we get or old we get or who we partner with, we’ve never deviated from,” McGuinness said. “And that’s inclusion, animal welfare and making food only natural.”

Chobani isn’t above some real-time marketing.
Ever since Oreo’s “Dunk in the dark” tweet during the Super Bowl in 2013, brands have tried their hand at riding the wave of, yes, cultural events. Chobani has tried its hand at this, when it released on Twitter an image of stacked yogurt cups representing the colors of the rainbow with the tagline “Naturally Powering Everyone” to oppose Russia’s anti-gay laws during the Sochi Olympics. The difference, according to McGuinness, is making sure the brand isn’t jumping on happenings just to be heard rather than to be relevant and true to what it is about.

“We calendar in certain things that we want to participate in throughout the year, but we leave a lot of time and room open to respond to topical events that we think we have the credibility to weigh in on. Some brands overdo it. There are certain things we’ve been vocal and will always be vocal about. We’ve always been an inclusive brand. When Sochi went down, we didn’t mince our words. We went right at it and said we denounce it.”

Chobani doesn’t rely on agencies for most content.
One way that Chobani keeps its entrepreneurial spirit alive is by keeping a lot of its content in-house. McGuinness is not a believer of outsourcing creativity, and he oversees a considerable amount of social and digital in-house.

“We try to create a lot of content in-house. Our whole social team is in-house, and our digital team is in-house. We have multiple agencies, and we will gather content from those agencies, but we do an awful lot internally. And that’s important, because that’s part of the fabric and foundation of what Chobani is all about.”

Being a client isn’t easy street.
Having had stints at BBDO Chicago and Gotham prior to coming to Chobani and spending over 20 years in the agency world, McGuinness had heard several myths about the client side when he made his move. That, he said, has changed.

“One of the myths I had was, ‘Oh, the client side is so easy; they just tell us what to do.’ As CMO now, ads are a very small part of what I do. It’s busy on the client side; you’re making stuff.”

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