Beef Jerky isn’t the most universally appealing food. Chewy, dried strips of salty meat aren’t the sexiest products out there, but there are valuable lessons for brands if we study the success stories in that market. In fact, it’s the very ‘unsexiness’ of the product that makes it such a challenge to market, as well as a surprising success when marketed well. In this market, one where very few name brands stand out from the crowd, the most interesting success story has probably been Jack Link’s Jerky.
Perhaps as I said their name, your mind flashed to their most famous advertising campaign: Messin’ with Sasquatch. This delightful series of ads depicts groups of humans playing juvenile pranks of various sorts on Bigfoot, with the ape man always getting the better of them in the end. You may be smiling right now just thinking about it, even if you’ve never even thought of buying their product.
Jack Link’s has displayed a knack for advertisements that amuse, delight, and keep the brand name top-of-mind. The company began in 1986, but has roared from obscurity to being one of the few well known national Jerky brands in the United States in recent years, entirely on the back of brilliant marketing. So why are they doing so well when you’d be hard pressed to think of another brand in their industry?
On the one hand, it was the lack of well-known jerky brands that presented their biggest challenge. The jerky market is largely driven by regional and local brands, or even homemade brands in places where hunting or farming is common. To compete nationally, a jerky brand would absolutely have to get their name out there, implant it into the minds of the masses to reach the small percentage of the population that are their target customers.
This is also related to the second factor Jack Link’s had to overcome, the 800 lb. Jerky Gorilla in the room: Slim Jim. Even if you have never Snapped Into a Slim Jim, you may remember their early 2000’s advertising campaign with professional wrestler “Macho Man” Randy Savage. They were over-the-top and goofy, but highly effectively for that exact reason. Macho Man’s larger-than-life personality lent gravity and levity to the campaign.
So how do you go even larger-than-life than one of the most charismatic pro wrestlers of all time? With a larger-than-life legend in its own right: Sasquatch. By tying its own brand to the mythical ape man, the Jack Link’s brand is able to convey a sense of being ‘wild’, ‘powerful’, and ‘free’ (Feed Your Wild Side!), a subtle contrast with the prepackaged modernity of Slim Jim. Jack Link’s brand suggests homemade beef Jerky from the farm, while Slim Jim come off as more like the stadium hot dogs of jerky. There is room for both in the market, but these are the differences suggested by their branding.
I mean this not as a statement on the actual products, but on the perceptions their brands inspire. Even looking at the products and their packaging suggests differences: Jack Link’s with its hunks of meat in red and black packaging suggestive of deep earthy colors, Slim Jim with its perfectly shaped meat sticks in packages of bright red and yellow.What Perception Does Your Brand Inspire?Click To Tweet
As I said at the beginning of this article, jerky isn’t the most easily marketable of products, but Jack Link’s has found a way to achieve national mind share in a largely local and regional product market, while also presenting a contrast to the traditional market leading brand, a Pepsi to Slim Jim’s Coke.
There are valuable lessons in this for almost any business, but one of the most obvious is this: you sell products, but you market brands, and the only way for brands to stand out from the crowd is to appear larger than life: Messin’ with Sasquatch, “Golden Arches”, Dancing Polar Bears, It’s Not Bacon, It’s Beggin Strips!, etc…You Sell Products, But You Market BrandsClick To Tweet
The second lesson is that fun, sexy, and exciting sell, but-more importantly-that almost any product or service can be those things with the right branding campaign. If jerky can do it, your business probably can too, even if it’s as boring as selling cardboard boxes.
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