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Trend Watch: Celebrities help marketers grab consumers' attention

Musicians, athletes and other big names can influence purchasing decisions and revive a product's image

Steven Hedlund
January 01, 2005

Salty fishermen and coastal landscapes are falling from favor with a growing number of seafood marketers, who have traded traditional imagery for celebrities to drive sales.

Some seafood firms are marketing their products under an existing celebrity-endorsed brand, such as Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville and Dwight Yoakam’s Bakersfield Biscuits, while others are simply capitalizing on a celebrity-related event to draw publicity to their products.

From musicians to athletes, celebrities immediately grab consumers’ attention and can influence their purchasing decisions, say advertising experts. Celebrities can even revive a product’s image, they add.

“In the past decade, celebrity endorsements have definitely been on the upswing,” says Melissa St. James, assistant professor of marketing at California State University at Dom­inguez Hills. “Our culture is obsessed with celebrities.”

“Celebrities are attention getters,” adds S. Marina Choi, assistant professor of advertising at the University of Texas at Austin. “Usually, a positive attitude toward a celebrity is translated into a positive attitude toward a product.

“But that doesn’t necessarily mean people will like [the product] and believe in it,” she warns. “If people don’t feel the celebrity has credibility, they’ll discount [the product]. People get skeptical, and it backfires.

“The image of the celebrity should be consistent with the image of the product,” says Choi.

That’s advice seafood marketers take to heart when selecting a celebrity.

Some companies use musicians to market their products as fun and convenient. Ocean Cuisine International of Danvers, Mass., (formerly Fishery Products International) tapped the easygoing music and lifestyle of Jimmy Buffet to market Margaritaville Shrimp (which derives from Buffet’s 1977 hit).

“It’s selling extremely well,” says Dave Strathern, the company’s senior VP of sales and marketing. “Jimmy’s got a huge following.”

Margaritaville Shrimp, which comes in Island Lime, Jammin’ Jerk and Calypso Coconut flavors, was launched in early 2003 at club stores and is now available at major supermarkets in the Northeast, Southeast and Midwest. The product will be rolled out at West Coast supermarkets this month and available nationwide by the end of March, says Strathern.

This month, Ocean Cuisine plans to introduce three new seafood products, including crab cakes, under the Margaritaville brand, adds Strathern.

Modern Foods of Peru, Ind., and country musician and actor Dwight Yoakam teamed up to market Boom Boom Shrimp, the first seafood item sold under Dwight Yoakam’s Baker­sfield Biscuits brand, which includes buttermilk biscuits, chicken and pork sausage.

“It’s been very successful,” says John Marburger, the company’s president.

Launched in early 2004 and now available at three of the nation’s top five retailers, Buffalo-flavored Boom Boom Shrimp consists of about 42 breaded and par-fried shrimp in stand-up, resealable bags. This spring, Modern Foods will introduce new flavors of shrimp, including Southwestern-flavored Border Shrimp, adds Marburger.

Yum Brands, which operates Long John Silver’s as well as KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, attributed third-quarter earnings of $185 million, a 13-percent increase over the same period in 2003, in part to 2004’s ad campaign starring Dale Earnhardt Jr., stock-car racing’s popular driver.

Earnhardt’s face adorned cups of Long John Silver’s $2.99 Dale Jr. Crunchy Shrimp Cruiser from July 26 to Sept. 20. Long John Silver’s also sponsored the stock car co-owned by Earnhardt and driven by Martin Truex Jr. at two races and aired a TV commercial featuring Earnhardt and Truex.

Other firms portray their products as healthful by using athletes to promote them.

Bumble Bee Seafoods hired San Diego Padres third baseman Sean Burroughs to promote the healthful benefits of its canned tuna on a radio spot that aired during Padres games late this summer and early this fall.

Bumble Bee also ran a promotion called “Lunch with a Pro,” in which local schoolchildren wrote letters about why they adore baseball and the Padres. Burroughs visited three winners and their classmates, who were treated to a Bumble Bee tuna lunch.

“We were pleased with the results,” says John Stiker, the company’s senior VP of marketing and business development. “We were pleased with the cost-benefit ratio, too.”

That wasn’t the first time Bumble Bee used a sports figure to market its tuna. In 1999, the company tapped New York Jets head coach Bill Parcells, whose nickname is “The Big Tuna,” to do a radio spot during Jets games.

Sometimes, capitalizing on a celebrity-related event is all it takes to gain publicity.

In early 2003, when the Dallas Cowboys introduced Bill Parcells as their new head coach, Nick & Sam’s Steakhouse in Dallas ran a special in his honor called “The Big Tuna,” a 16-ounce tuna steak with a red-pepper mango sauce for $24 and a 22-ounce “cowboy” steak for $32. Diners who finished the entire meal got it for free.

“It generated a lot of media interest,” says Lisa Maxwell, sales and marketing manager for the 360-seat restaurant, “and it boosted restaurant traffic.”

In July, when the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees were vying to trade for Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson, Roger Berkowitz, president and CEO of Legal Sea Foods and a lifelong Red Sox fan, shipped 5.1 gallons of his clam chowder to Johnson.

The pitcher, who wears No. 51, had joked about being “torn between the Manhattan clam chowder and the Boston clam chowder.” Several media outlets reported the gift.

Occasionally, celebrity endorsements fall into marketers’ laps, as was the case for Chicken of the Sea in late 2003 when pop singer Jessica Simpson, while nibbling on its canned tuna during an episode of the MTV program “The Newlyweds,” asked, “Is it chicken or is it tuna?”

Countless gossip columnists discussed Simpson’s dimwitted question. Chicken of the Sea took advantage of the unexpected publicity by inviting Simpson to its San Diego headquarters, using her visit as an opportunity to further publicize the company’s products and history.

“In 1914 when the company was known by another name, we were the first to can 'light' tuna. So consumers would know to expect a mild-flavored whitefish that tasted similar to chicken, the company marketed it under the name Chicken of the Sea," said Don George, the company's senior VP of marketing.

Whether unexpected or planned, celebrity endorsements are a surefire way for seafood marketers to grab consumers' attention. And, if executed properly, such endorsements can influence consumers' purchasing decisions or revive a product's image.

January 2005 - SeaFood Business

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