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Kraft Dinner makes ‘fun’ its advertising catchword in new campaign

Crowds check out a Kraft Dinner ‘KD Fun Shop’ in downtown Toronto on Wednesday.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The Bay Street crowd is used to making trades. But rarely is "fun" considered a viable currency.

But thanks to a marketing blitz, it was legal tender in Toronto's financial district on Wednesday, for those who passed through a door made to look like a giant macaroni noodle.

Canadians may have noticed recently the truly bizarre TV Kraft Dinner commercials, in which a talking horse named Kevin criticizes an "adulty and responsible" lifestyle, encouraging people to find their fun (and eat macaroni and cheese). The campaign is now taking on what is known in the industry as an "experiential" element, starting with the Bay Street event and spreading across the country soon.

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People who visited the macaroni-shaped pop-up on Wednesday could shop for Kraft Dinner merchandise such as noodle earrings, KD bed sheets and "funderpants." When they went to the checkout however, in lieu of cash, they were asked to do a "fun" activity. Those included juggling boxes of the product, and jumping up and down on one foot while talking like a pirate.

It's all part of a larger marketing plan for one of Kraft Canada's signature brands. Sales of the boxed pasta and powdered cheese base are a staple of many families' shopping carts, and have been steady. But the company has not been as successful encouraging consumption among adults (beyond the odd forkful of their children's leftovers, that is).

"The biggest challenge we face on this brand is top-of-mind awareness," said Kristen Eyre, brand director for Kraft Dinner. "The biggest reason why consumers haven't eaten us in a while is because they haven't thought about us in a while."

The marketing strategy, then, is to make consumers think about their childhood, and to associate the time when they ate Kraft Dinner most often with the childlike feeling of carefree fun.

That's a slight shift away from a strategy that the company used a couple of years back, when it promoted products such as KD Smart, purporting to offer nutritional extras. More recently, it began advertising more to millennials (younger adults). But after changing ad agencies and hiring Anomaly Toronto last year, it has expanded its target demographic much more widely. It is now pitching Kraft Dinner as a treat for all adults, using nostalgic emotion as a trigger.

"People don't want to think of Kraft Dinner that way … you don't want to think about the nutritional value. When you have KD, it makes you feel like a kid again," said Franke Rodriguez, partner and president at Anomaly Toronto.

Starting on Thursday, roving Kraft Dinner kiosks will begin appearing first in Toronto, then Montreal and Vancouver, at locations including parking lots and dry cleaners. Kiosk operators will offer to pay for products or services for people in exchange for "fun" challenges.

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"Experiential" advertising such as this is becoming more important. Consumers face more distractions than ever, and most industry insiders believe they are also more skeptical of traditional ads.

"It is simply not enough any more to tell consumers what you think they should do," Ms. Eyre said. "It is about creating experiences."

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