It’s possible that some American families will be saying grace around a Hot Durkey on Thursday.
What’s that? You don’t know what a Hot Durkey is? It’s this culinary and architectural feat dreamed up by Oscar Mayer: A mass of hot dogs molded around a loaf of bread to form the shape of a Thanksgiving turkey.
Oscar Mayer, a brand owned by Kraft Foods, said the idea was spawned after studying social media traffic and noticing lots of online buzz around items such as the “turducken”–a turkey stuffed with both a duck and a chicken. Hot dogs are not a traditional Thanksgiving menu item, but they figured that with the right whimsical touch and a catchy hashtag, maybe they could be part of the digital dialogue about the biggest dinner of the year.
Oscar Mayer’s move reflects a broader shift in food brands’ seasonal marketing tactics this year. As Facebook and Instagram have become prime destinations for “humble-brag” photos of mouth-watering food, and as Pinterest and YouTube become key sources for how-to guides and recipes, the food companies increasingly are betting that the route to your dinner table is through social networks.
Swanson, the Campbell’s-owned brand of stocks and broths, teamed up with two YouTube stars on instructional videos for making recipes that feature its products. On the Entertaining with Beth channel, which has 151,000 subscribers, you can find host Beth Le Manach making a butternut squash and coconut soup. On Fifteen Spatulas, which has 68,000 subscribers, viewers are guided through up a Swanson-based stuffing recipe, which the host declares is the “best stuffing ever.”
“A lot of consumers, when they’re looking for inspiration, they’ll go to their keyboard first,” said Nelson Warley, senior brand manager for Swanson. “They’re using YouTube like a search engine.”
Swanson spends much of the year going after a customer it calls the “passionate kitchen master,” or someone for whom cooking is a treasured creative outlet. But with their digital holiday campaigns, they’re trying to widen the aperture to capture “holiday hosts,” or the people who aren’t exactly a whiz in the kitchen but really want to impress their guests. Warley said Swanson has learned that social media is a key way of reaching these more casual cooks. In a customer survey last year, the company found that nearly half of respondents in the 18 to 34 age bracket will take a picture of their meal on their smartphone or post a picture of their meal to Instagram during the holiday season.
Butterball, the brand behind the birds on many Thanksgiving tables, has been building “Instagraphics” this year that it hopes will be shared widely on Thursday and throughout the holiday season. This one, for example, offers up some instructions for cooking your bird:
Butterball has long maintained a phone hotline at this time of year for these kinds of questions. And while the brand is keeping up that effort, its’ turkey support is quickly going digital.
“We see Facebook and Twitter as primary resources for answering questions in real-time. We get many questions that mirror what we see on the phones or on the Web site,” said Bill Klump, chief marketing officer, in an e-mail. “We see Pinterest and Instagram as key sharing tools. We see lots of recipe inspiration and sharing of photos on both platforms.”
Ocean Spray, too, counts Thanksgiving as the focal point of its annual marketing strategy. The company says it has been using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to not only try to promote cranberry-centric recipes, but also to share photos of its cranberry bogs (the marshy grounds on which the plants are grown) during harvest. The idea, says Paul Stajduhar, the company’s global chief marketing officer, is to give people a better sense of how these products are grown and produced, an idea that may have particular resonance at a time when shoppers are more and more concerned about where their food comes from.
Stajduhar said that social media platforms have fundamentally changed how he thinks about his job, and not just during the holiday season.
“I think marketing has converted from trying to convince people of something to trying to take the experience and enable people to share that product experience with others,” Stajduhar said.