Brand Strategy

Why the Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Bear woke up

The brand's ursine mascot has been a meme for years, but the tea company has a new idea to get him in Gen Z paws: ending his eternal slumber.
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Celestial Seasonings

· 5 min read

Picture this: It’s a cool October day. You’ve been peacefully asleep in your cozy cabin under your nightcap for 50 years straight. But today, a day ostensibly the same as any other, the folks at Celestial Seasonings decided to put an end to this slumber party.

That’s what happened to the brand’s Sleepytime Bear mascot, who woke up last month and basically morphed from a Frog and Toad Storybook–esque creature to more of a bombastic Crazy Frog. Don’t believe us? See for yourself here.

He became a meme long before he woke up, but now, videos across TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram depict the once-peaceful Sleepytime Bear catching up on what he’s missed after 50 years of snoozing. He’s into restocking videos, at-home exercise bikes, reality-TV shows, and TikTok dances, per a press release about the Great Awakening sent to Marketing Brew.

You might wonder who is behind this…molting of the bear. Turns out, it’s an increasingly familiar culprit: Gen Z. Specifically, it’s a ploy to get more Celestial teas into Gen Z paws as the generation’s interest in the category accelerates just in time for Sleepytime Bear’s 50th anniversary.

But here’s the catch

Despite its quest to reach Gen Z, the brand didn’t do much testing with the audience it’s hoping to reach.

“We didn’t do official consumer testing that we might’ve done in some more traditional campaigns,” Melinda Goldstein, CMO at The Hain Celestial Group, told Marketing Brew. That usually means formal focus groups or external research. Rather, both internally and at Deutsch New York, the agency behind the campaign, a few Gen Z staffers voiced their opinions about the bear’s personality to higher-ups.

But Goldstein maintained that the younger generation is who Celestial wants to reach with this campaign. “Younger consumers are drinking a lot of tea. They’re very interested in the category, they love the wellness benefits that come with tea,” she said, adding Celestial recently realized not a lot of people know about its suite of wellness teas (think: newer specialty probiotic tea and startup energy tea), all of which she believes really resonate with that younger demographic.

“We just really need to get them to know our brand. We need to get their attention, we need to talk to them in a way that’s engaging and compelling so that they will try us,” Goldstein continued, noting that the bear felt like the right vehicle for the job.

Pete Johnson, Deutsch's EVP, executive creative director, told us that although the agency sometimes runs external focus groups for clients, they didn’t this time. Instead, Deutsch opted to source feedback from about half a dozen internal creatives in the Gen Z demographic, Johnson noted.

“It’s really up to the client if they want to get some [external] data behind it,” Johnson explained. “If they want it, we’ll do it. And if they don’t, we feel like we have enough industry knowledge to move things forward in a pretty creative way.”

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The campaign is only running on YouTube and social media at this point, as well as the brand’s website, per Goldstein. She also told us that her team has no plans to run the video assets on any other channels right now. Celestial is doing a mix of paid and organic advertising for the campaign.

Goldstein estimated that between 60% and 70% of the brand’s yearly marketing budget was spent on this campaign, although she didn’t share actual figures. It’s running now through March, a time period Goldstein referred to as “hot tea season,” with new creative coming out alongside cultural moments for the bear to engage with.

Don’t sleep on external research

The bear’s new look and feel has resulted in mixed reactions online. Some think he didn’t need a makeover in the first place.

Art student Natalia Gaydos penned a tweet criticizing the new bear that reads “I’m gonna be sick… they resorted to bimbofication of THE CELESTIAL SEASONINGS SLEEPYTIME BEAR ????” along with an image of the new bear apparently taking a selfie in a crop top and experimenting with thirst traps. The tweet got more than 1,000 likes. Gaydos, who describes herself as “on the cusp” between millennial and Gen Z, told Marketing Brew she doesn’t see the need for the new bear.

“Is that new bear final? I’m pretty sure everyone always loved the classic image of him sleeping in his chair, so I don’t really get the need,” she told us.

Cultural consultancy sparks & honey’s VP of product strategy Courtney Emery told us that consistency is an important element of brand mascots.

“Brand mascots exist so people can build an emotional connection to the brand, so if you change their personality overnight, people are going to feel like they’ve had this friend for years and all of a sudden it’s not who they thought they were,” Emery explained. She stressed that brands shouldn’t update their mascots just for the “sake of updating.” Rather, it should only be done in extremely necessary cases where the mascot is outdated or now considered offensive.

“Just updating it for the sake of being cool is always dangerous territory. Especially if you’re not going to do the research to really understand how ‘cool’ is defined by the demographic that you’re trying to target,” she said.

Doing external testing on a large group of people is particularly important when it comes to Gen Z, Emery said, because Gen Z is the most diverse generation the US has ever seen.

“They are arguably the hardest to distill down to a singular, like-minded generation. And so I think with them in particular, doing external research is very important because they don’t have a singular source of information or identity. A larger sample size of Gen Z is always going to benefit your brand, especially when it comes to rebranding a mascot,” Emery shared.

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