The little animated spokesman is the latest marketing effort to build on a venerable brand.
He's a two-inch kitchen hero, a knight in almost-shining armor with a bushy mustache and big expressive eyes. He carries a shield inscribed with a big S and speaks with the stentorian tone of James Earl Jones.
He is Sir Can-A-Lot, the new voice of Spam, the oft-revered and sometimes-mocked American food product consumed the world over and produced by Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods.
Created in honor of the canned meat's 75th anniversary this year, Sir Can-A-Lot was more than three years in the making and the result of exhaustive research in the homes of Spam consumers.
The result is a "break the monotony" advertising campaign using Spam as a meal add-on to spice up breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The new marketing effort comes at a time when Spam sales are strong both domestically and abroad. Spam was a driver of Hormel's record second-quarter profit of $127.9 million reported earlier this year. Hormel's grocery segment, of which Spam is a key component, turned a profit that was 10 percent higher year-over-year on sales growth of 1 percent.
The Sir Can-A-Lot campaign is the brainchild of the Minneapolis office of BBDO Proximity, the only ad agency Spam has ever known in its 75-year history.
"He's a new icon for an iconic brand," said Brian Kroening, BBDO's executive creative director. "We wanted to remind folks that Spam is as relevant today as it ever was."
Hormel, a $7.9 billion a year retail food giant, does not break out sales by product. But Spam, the canned combination of pork and ham, is more than a niche in the Hormel line of products that range from sliced bacon to roasted turkey to shelf-stable microwave meals. Indeed, Spam and Hormel canned chili are the core products of Hormel's grocery segment. So any campaign that gins up Spam sales will have an effect on Hormel's bottom line.
"This is a product that can move the needle for them because it has high margins," said Edward Jones & Co. analyst Matt Arnold. "It's also a nice export product for Hormel."
To date, the company reports that more than 7 billion cans of Spam have been sold around the globe.
The history between Hormel and BBDO goes back to 1930 when the New York ad agency opened a Minneapolis office specifically to handle the advertising needs of the southern Minnesota food company. The agency started advertising for Spam in 1937.
Sir Can-A-Lot is only the most recent advertising campaign from BBDO for Spam.
In the 1930s Spam was touted as part of breakfast in the form of "Spam and eggs." In the 1940s its pitchman and pitchwoman were the high-profile comic duo George Burns and Gracie Allen. In the 1950s, Spam advertised bolder recipes including one for "Spam 'n banana fritters."
"Spam is still one of Hormel's top brands. Its logo recognition is quite high so Sir Can-A-Lot can create an additional association between the consumer and the brand," said Dave Hopkins, who teaches marketing strategy at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management. "How do you connect with people with so much clutter out there? Sometimes a playful personality can make that connection."
Lovers and Occasionals
The Sir Can-A-Lot project began with researchers conducting up-close-and-personal sessions in the homes and in the supermarkets of Spam "lovers" and Spam "occasional users."
They traveled to Texas and Los Angeles and Charlotte, N.C., to peek in consumers' kitchens and encouraged home-bound Spam tasting parties like the classic Avon or Mary Kay events where neighbors and friends were invited over for Spam delicacies.
The findings? "Lovers and Occasionals live next door to each other,'' said Susan Kaufman, brand planning director for BBDO. "But Lovers are really creative and confident in the kitchen. Occasionals would stop at a Spamburger."
Kaufman said their research determined that cans of Spam occupy cupboard space in 40 percent of U.S. households but much of that sits in the kitchens of occasional users.
"If we can get those consumers to buy one more can a year, that makes it a big deal for the [Hormel] business," said Kaufman.
Sir Can-A-Lot was born on the drawing boards of Laika, a Portland, Ore., animation shop that counts the Planter's Peanut man and the talking M&Ms among its body of work.
Sir Can-A-Lot was one of three finalists for the Spam-hawking job. The other two were "The Messenger of Yum," who had more of a Zen presence about him, and Spamurai Chef, who wore a colander for a helmet.
"I fell in love with Sir Can-A-Lot right away," said Nicole Behne, Hormel's senior product manager for the Spam brand. "Our initial research shows that consumers like him. They find him memorable and believable. We're moving the [sales] needle with him."
"He is not the brand, he is the ultimate crusader for the brand," Kroening said. "We're just getting started. Sir Can-A-Lot is just in his infancy. He's on a mission and as people get to know him they might want to know more about him."
And it's all there on www.spam.com.
David Phelps • 612-673-7269