Brand Strategy

What’s the future of shock-value marketing?

Why some brands aren’t giving up their headline-generating campaign ideas just yet.
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Illustration: Francis Scialabba, Photos: Velveeta, Coors Light, Oscar Mayer

· 5 min read

Velveeta martinis, pants made of Chipotle napkins, and nail polish that can detect the temperature of a can of Coors Light. Brands went to great lengths to reach customers in creative ways and make headlines this year—and it worked.

As brands keep finding new ways to advertise their products, are marketers worried about unconventional campaigns feeling stale or becoming oversaturated? According to those involved in some of this year’s most out-there campaigns, the road signs aren’t pointing to a slowdown in 2023.


While Velveeta has a base media plan for traditional advertising, Kelsey Rice, senior brand manager, brand communications at Kraft Heinz for brands like Velveeta, told us it dedicates a small portion of its budget to creating moments that “will drive relevancy for [its] brand and culture.”

The focus this year, she said, was physically bringing its “La Dolce Velveeta” slogan to life. This manifested in campaigns like the “Veltini,” cheese-scented nail polish, and “Foodie Call,” a meal-delivery hotline, all of which were created in partnership with creative agency Johannes Leonardo.

“We’ve had a really great success this year because the campaigns, while externally seeming really wacky, did a great job of getting attention,” Rice told us. While it depends on the activation, Rice said the primary KPIs Kraft measures in campaigns like these are earned impressions, social engagement, and overall conversation.

Jeph Burton, group creative director at Johannes Leonardo, told us that when thinking of fresh ways to introduce new products, the agency very rarely looks at competitors in the food industry but rather takes inspiration from the fashion industry.

“There’s an ostentatiousness about the fashion world that we wanted to tap into and say, ‘Why is it that they get to do these pretty radical things?’” he said.

This year, Johannes Leonardo also worked with Kraft Heinz on Oscar Mayer’s “Cold Dog” ice pops and bologna sheet masks. “Prior to this, I don’t think there was a cycle of thinking, ‘What is Velveeta gonna do next?’ [or] ‘What is Oscar Mayer gonna do next?’” he said. “We want to change that.”

The result of these nontraditional tactics—which Burton said they call “acts, not ads,” or ANA—has translated not just to conversations, but also inquiries from other brands to do similar campaigns. The “Cold Dog” campaign particularly sparked interest from other brands, he said, because it demonstrated engaging consumers directly through a social media vote.

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“I think people are looking to be part of the story,” he said.

Doin’ it for the fans

But making a new product can require partnerships, investments, and risk-taking that perhaps traditional ad campaigns do not. Chris Steele, senior director of marketing for Coors Light at Molson Coors, told us that to execute these campaigns, it’s important to “be in an environment that allows you to try some things that don’t always work.”

The risk taken on the Coors Light “Chill Polish” seems to be paying off: Steele told us that since its release in November, the limited-edition nail polish has been “selling out faster” than expected.

In addition to sales, he said the brand looks at things like overall impressions and impact on brand perception. Based on Chill Polish results to date, he said he expects Coors Light to do more product partnership campaigns next year.

Steele said the polish, marketed to both men and women, has been a great way to reach a young audience as they move away from linear TV and given the ad limitations for alcohol brands on TikTok.

While Steele said it’s “not the worst thing in the world” to just get eyes on a traditionald ad, he added that “you don’t really build up much brand love that way.”

Chipotle is another brand that’s looking to “supercharge the superfans,” Tressie Lieberman, its VP of digital marketing and off-premise, told us. This year’s lemonade-scented “Water” Cup candle generated more than 2 billion impressions and is the brand’s most-liked Instagram post to date, she said. Other viral activations this year included napkin cargo pants.

Lieberman said her team tries to create conversation-worthy campaigns at least once per quarter. Part of staying close to what will resonate with fans, she said, is doing social listening.

“Certainly we look for trends, but we’re also really mining for these unique Chipotle insights that come through reading the comments, reaching out to our creator community, talking to our fans, and learning what makes their passion for Chipotle unique,” she said.

As for any concern that these types of campaigns will increasingly become commonplace and could lose their novelty, “When we find those ideas that are so aligned with our brand and our community, another brand couldn’t copy it,” she said. “We just stay really focused on doing the things that only we can do.”

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