‘Delicious, warm meal’: Jimmy Dean woos millennials with the basics

This is ThinkTank, a series in which we quiz brand chiefs and CMOs on where the industry is heading.

Jimmy Dean’s sun mascot has been the proud presenter of its sausages and patties for decade. But that has changed with its latest campaign with Ogilvy & Mather — a take on paying it forward called “Shine It Forward.”

The campaign, which kicked off on Monday has a 90-second online video called “#MondaysForGood” at its center, and encourages people to take Monday mornings off and volunteer their time doing something good. There’s also a 30-second TV spot called “Happy Commute,” which shows how a man starts of a chain of goodwill among people by handing away his umbrella.

While the sun is gone, his positivity and optimism is embodied in the new effort, according to Karmen Conrad, marketing director at Jimmy Dean. We spoke with her about how the campaign marks a significant shift for the brand, with a more consumer-facing marketing effort. She also spoke about the brand’s new in-house digital team and how it relies on influencers for their credibility in reaching out to its consumers.

Answers have been lightly edited for clarity.

Are brand mascots passé?
I don’t know. To be honest, we’ve never really thought of the sun character as just a mascot. He was always an integral part of the brand, embodying our brand message of optimism and positivity and starting your day off right.

So why did you decide to ditch it then?
We don’t see it as an elimination of the sun, but as an evolution of the sun. As we talked to consumers, we realized there was an opportunity to evolve what the sun means moving forward and really make it a call-to-action. We wanted to make our marketing about engaging consumers and having them become a part of the conversation, versus something that was just talking down to them. So the sun as an icon in terms of what he stood for is still at the core of our messaging.

How have you changed your digital strategy?
Being where the consumers are meant that we needed to have an elevated digital and social component. So one of the things we’ve done is that we have a dedicated digital team and center of excellence that we did not have before. It’s a three-person in-house team apart from our agency partners that helps us to think about digital, social and mobile more strategically, connect with our consumers where they are and focus on content creation and the different social channels we want to be on.

You’re also working with influencers for this campaign. How important are influencers for a brand today?
For this campaign, we’ve enlisted a group of 23 influencers, which is a mix of bloggers, Instagrammers and YouTube families to share content for our launch and raise awareness about #MondaysForGood. Influencers are a key part of any of our activations throughout the year as they are a great way to get our message out given their audiences. They also have credibility with their audiences and that is something we respect and acknowledge.

With the recent outcry over processed meat, are millennials buying Jimmy Dean?
Frozen protein breakfasts and the category is growing significantly. So for the consumers we’re targeting, we’re actually a very relevant part of the day. Millennials — like any other consumers — who are looking for the convenience, taste and quality of a delicious, warm meal will hopefully be attracted to our brand too.

What’s next for Jimmy Dean? Will the sun ever make a comeback?
We don’t expect to bring the sun character back, but we do have a lot of great plans. Our last campaign lasted for over a decade, so we have really thought about creating something that will similarly resonate with consumers for a long time to come. We have a lot of activations this year that will continue to reinforce our “Shine It Forward” movement and will also introduce new products across our different segments.

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