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By The Drum | Editorial

November 29, 2023 | 4 min read

Heinz scooped the Integrated award at the Drum awards for Design with a campaign that re-connected the brand with young consumers. Here is the award-winning case study.

Heinz Ketchup is a true icon: it's not just a ketchup, it's THE ketchup. But as a 153-year-old brand, it can be challenging to stay top-of-mind and relevant to new, younger generations. So when Heinz saw its affinity score drop for the first time in years, it was critical to react and get back into the cultural zeitgeist and social conversation.

Our objective was to develop a new campaign that would reinvigorate a connection with consumers who weren’t seeing Heinz as a contemporary brand. We had a limited budget but set out to get an outsized return on investment by leveraging the equity of the Heinz brand to drive earned media and engagement at a rate equivalent to or above other bigger budget Heinz initiatives.

Heinz is a cultural icon, but to connect with a new, younger generation of fans who were seeing Heinz as old and nostalgic - we had to find a way to prove it without saying it ourselves. We knew this Gen Z audience wouldn’t be receptive to yet another big, traditional brand talking about themselves, so we had to find a completely unbiased way to prove that ketchup = Heinz.

In 2022, text-to-image A.I. generators had taken over the Internet, with people making wild images from written prompts like “Napoleon riding a Harley.” Since we already know that when people think of ketchup, they think of Heinz, we wanted to find out what happens when you ask something entirely unbiased, like artificial intelligence. We turned to DALL·E 2, the most advanced A.I. image generator - so advanced that it wasn’t even available to the general public yet - and asked it what "ketchup" looked like. The result? Even to A.I., ketchup looks like Heinz.

We began by launching our hero video OLV and on social asked people to suggest ketchup-based image prompts. Suggestions like “Basquiat ketchup” and “Ketchup in space” poured in from around the world – even other brands like Ducati and Sportsnet chimed in with A.I. ketchup image requests. We plugged the suggestions into DALL·E 2 and got results that shared consistent elements of the Heinz brand across an eclectic mix of styles ranging from Vermeer to Vaporwave.

Plugging these suggestions into DALL·E 2 led to some of the most weird and wonderful ketchup-based visuals imaginable. Any style, influence, or random mash-up idea could be applied to ketchup. No matter how weird they got, like “Ketchup Tarot Card”, “Ketchup Impressionism”, or “Ketchup Dog” – the AI still produced images that were somehow, distinctly Heinz.

We took these images and turned them into the first-ever campaign with visuals generated entirely by A.I., and co-authored by consumers. These unaltered images suggested by fans were featured in OOH, print, and social around the world. We also launched an art gallery in the metaverse where people flocked to experience the wonderfully wacky Heinz images for themselves. Finally, we brought things into the real world by showcasing the images in an art gallery in Toronto, Canada, and by producing a run of special edition Heinz bottles that featured Heinz A.I. images as the label.

Originally launched in Canada and the US, our campaign quickly went global, generating over 1.15 billion earned impressions around the world - with a significant presence in China, Chile, and Brazil. Our earned media was worth over 2500% more than our media investment. We received coverage in leading trade, art, tech, and lifestyle media outlets like Fast Company, Bloomberg, TechCrunch, and Forbes. In North America, we exceeded our KPIs for earned stories by over 250% in a matter of weeks, and received 100% positive/neutral sentiment. On social, we saw an engagement rate 38% higher than past campaigns.

In fact, our campaign was so impactful that in response DALL·E 2 was retrained to reduce brand bias, changing the course of how brands use artificial intelligence.

By capitalizing on the text-to-image A.I. trend before any other brand, our first-to-market campaign proved to a younger generation of tech and culture fans that Heinz is the ketchup. Even the machines agree.

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