One of the more entertaining stories I heard at AdWeekMedia SocialMedia Strateges earlier this week was about J & D's Foods, a company that has figured out how to compete against the biggest consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands by launching interesting products in record time with negligible development and marketing costs – all while having some fun, too.
Or maybe the fun is one of their secrets. And oh, yea, the marketing is pretty much handled exclusively with social media. Did I mention that a Man with a Bacon Head is somehow involved in all of this?
Shortly after arriving at the event on Wednesday I spoke with Justin Esch, a panelist for one of the upcoming sessions and a co-founder of J & D's. He started to tell me the story of his bacon-flavored products company – I more or less zoned out on this until I saw him eagerly waving the latest People magazine (they were in it) and talking about a bacon head. This got my attention!
I was able to ask a few questions, and then sat in on his session (called "Small is the New Big") to hear the full story. How could one not want to hear about a company whose mission is to make everything taste just like bacon?
The challenge that J & D's faced as a startup was that the CPG arena is dominated by big brands and big money. For example, Kroger Foods told them that they should be prepared to spend $20 million to launch a brand in order to get product on their shelves. As Justin said "We were a little short."
So J & D's used size to their advantage, both in production and marketing.
He realized that they needed to do something ridiculous or scandalous to get attention. Part of this involved launching a series of attention-getting products.
J & D's also got involved with cause marketing. Justin had the idea of starting with something that costs almost nothing and turning it into a bigger value for a charity they teamed up with. They built a bust of Kevin Bacon made entirely out of bacon. Bidding started at 1 cent on eBay, and the head was eventually sold for over $4K.
J & D's promoted the auction by pushing the story out through blogs, Twitter and social networks. Word spread, and big guns media came calling: USA Today, NPR, People, and Fox News, to name a few.
Justin seemed genuinely hurt when an audience member asked a question that presumed it was all one big joke and that they were all gag products. He pointed out that bacon salt is very real, as is bacon-flavored mayonnaise ("baconnaise").
On the other hand, they did take things a bit far on occassion with gag products – e.g. bacon-flavored baby formula. Also, the bacon-flavored sex lube fell flat because their primary demographic is women from ages 35-50 in the conservative "Southern U.S. bacon – mayonnaise belt." The lube followed their introduction of bacon-flavored chapstick, a real product that earned a mention on the Oprah Winfrey show.
If you think it is a joke, consider this: the company has gone from a garage to being in 25% of grocers in three years.
Jason's advice to other entrepreneurs? Be nimble, and don't be afraid to fail. Be honest about failures and be real with the people that you are trying to connect with.
Here are the questions I asked Jason before his session.
Q: So what did the real Kevin Bacon think about the bacon head?
A: He was pretty cool about it
Q: Do you compete with Bacos?
A: No, we want to own each category we compete in and do not have a salad topping.