Best of 2014: Jell-O’s branding race to the bottom

This was first published on September 8, 2014.  The Bill Cosby angle that has emerged since then is an unfortunate grace note to the whole thing.

Poor old Jell-O® Brand Gelatin.  It once billed itself as The World’s Most Favorite Dessert.  Remember the old Jell-O brand profile, at least the one that dominated for the better part of the last generation?:  Bill Cosby flapping his goofy gums with kids, talking and giggling about all the family fun to be had with a cup of the jiggly?

Those were the days.  When it comes to brand integrity, it seems, Jell-O’s management is showing itself to be a tower of, um… what would you say, exactly?  Per Tax Law Prof blogger Paul Caron:

Last month — just in time for a new season of college football — Kraft Foods released a new line of Jell-O molds in the shapes of various university logos. Four of the “jiggler mold kits” were unveiled last year, but products for 16 more teams have now been added, including the University of Alabama, Ohio State University, and the University of California at Los Angeles.

Jell-O Shots - Logo Kits
Excuse me, these are for JIGGLERS, okay?

In a press release, Kraft said the kits are meant to be used in creating Jell-O treats for tailgate parties for alumni and fans. But some are concerned that the themed molds could be seen as university-endorsed invitations to create alcohol-laced “Jell-O shots” — a mixed message for universities fighting to curb binge drinking among students. …Aaron White, the program director of college and underage drinking prevention research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: “If I were a student, I’d be awfully confused if I heard about the dangers of drinking and drinking games at freshman orientation and then when I got to Wal-Mart, I found these Jell-O molds with my school’s logo on it.”

Kraft admits that it is aware Jell-O shots are a popular way to consume the dessert, but the company told the website Vocativ that it doesn’t condone using the molds for that purpose. The half-dozen universities contacted for this article did not return requests for comment.

OK, well, I was once a student, and I don’t think I’d be that confused, actually.  At least, not until after pounding a bunch of Jell-O shots, right?!  Har, har.

A little nanny-ish, really, Aaron White.  No one with a high school education should be confused — they can see hypocrisy quite clearly.

Old_Jello ad-147
A child can prepare it — but in most states she better be 21

It’s all, in fact, a perfect morality / substance abuse / branding / licensing / NCAA-IP-cash-in storm, no?  I love it!

Jell-O, chasing declining market share and, to hear Steve Baird tell it, the menace of genericness, has been playing fast and loose concerning its relationship to Jell-O shots (gosh, pretty strong argument for genericide right there!) for a while (I have added some fun links to the quote below from ESPN):

The Super Bowl winners get to go to Disney World, the losers get Jell-O?

As a gesture to the sad fans of the Super Bowl losing team, the colorful dessert brand will give out thousands of cups of free Jell-O product in the team’s local city on Tuesday.

The promotion will be announced in a commercial celebrating the losing team’s prize following the postgame trophy presentation. . . .

Every cup is a one-way ticket to FuntownThe clever marketing play comes at a time when Jell-O sales haven’t performed to the company’s expectations, as the message steered away from family fun to weight management.

“We lost our core family consumer,” Gallagher said. “We want them to know that we’re about fun.” . . .The brand doesn’t have any particular connection to the Super Bowl, though sports fans are accustomed to throwing back Jell-O shots — small cups often spiked with vodka — at tailgates and parties.

The thing for which there is always room - Jell-O
The thing for which there is always room

Gallagher says sales are sales, but that the brand would never publicly embrace that use of its product.”It’s our job to find the right consumer through the right messaging,” he said. “Anything that happens outside of what we do, we can’t control.”

“Gosh, we can’t control anything that happens outside of what we do!”

It is to laugh!

Duh-hood!  Lack of control is the whole point of what your “brand strategy” — and the NCAA’s, too.

But for you, Jell-O, “lack of control” isn’t merely a new “strategy.”  At least not the way you intend it.  Because, after all, you know… lack of control!

Yep:  Your once-great brand, once one of the only snacks, is in a death-spiral — crowded out by an explosion of new snacks, some of which contain actual food, such that Jell-O is basically now known for  little more than being the first thing you’re allowed to eat after they take out your appendix.

So you, Jell-O Boy, are going with the flow –“finding the right consumer through the right messaging. The message? Binge-drinking is great after school fun!  The consumer?  Superannuated adolescents.  So much for the old after-school pleasures of fake-fruit-flavored sugar water chilled into a gelatinous suspension for sharing with the Cosby Kids.

Nothing terrible about it, really.  We all grow up.  And, after all, let’s not be naive:  Binge drinking has been part of the college football spectating experience even longer than Jell-O has been on the menu at every diner along Route 1.  But Jell-O’s coy, see-no-evil branding arc looks more like a Hail Mary pass than a methodical trek into the end zone of revived, um, consumer consciousness.

Quite the opposite!:

Hat tip to Insty.

Ron Coleman

I write this blog.