A decade ago, the small Minneapolis ad agency Kruskopf & Co. lit the fire that popularized No Name Steaks.
Now KC is being asked to do it again.
"We had a really good experience with them the first time and they just seemed to be the perfect choice to re-energize the brand with our consumer base," said Mike Hageman, president of J&B Group, the St. Michael, Minn.-based manufacturer of the No Name line of food products.
To sell No Name Steaks — and services for brands ranging from Prairie Stone Pharmacy and Sonus hearing products — KC uses its self-defined mission to find "one simple truth" about a brand and capitalize on that.
Their past work is even credited with helping elect Jesse Ventura as governor, with an attention-getting TV spot in which he posed strategically naked as "The Thinker," a famous French sculpture.
The one simple truth in the long-shot Ventura campaign?
"Politics is B.S.," said agency co-founder Sue Kruskopf. "It was Jesse 'The Body' vs. Jesse 'The Mind.' We just went with our gut and it worked."
When the Kruskopf agency took No Name Steaks as a client the first time, there was consumer confusion over the brand. Why didn't it have a name? Was it a generic piece of beef?
So the Kruskopf folks went back to the roots of No Name Steaks in South St. Paul, found the original butcher who came up with the cut of meat and created a TV ad showing four actor/butchers standing over a carving table after the store had closed, test-tasting a tender-looking medium-rare piece of steak and trying to come up with a name for the cut, which they couldn't do.
The ad became known as the "No Name Butchers" and highlighted a media campaign that included billboards that said, "Perfect for 'dad's-turn-to-cook' night."
"That's when sales took off," said Hageman, whose J&B Group will do more than $700 million in sales this year.
KC's new work for the No Name brand, which also includes chicken, seafood, bacon and meatballs, is in the research and development stage. A media campaign is scheduled to be rolled out next spring to coincide with the grilling season.
"We know that the 'No Name Butchers' still resonate with consumers. The story behind the brand was about the quality of the steaks," Kruskopf said. "We need to show what the product can be and what it should not be."
The Kruskopf agency prides itself on a "no B.S." approach to client needs.
"We don't hire prima donnas. It's about everyone rolling up their shirtsleeves. We don't want B.S. in the workplace. That's why we left [the big-agency world]," Kruskopf said. "If we could rid the world of B.S., think how much happier the world would be."
KC's client list ranges from 3M to Cost Cutters to Plasti Dip, a rubberized coating originally used to coat tool handles.
For 3M, KC provided the early marketing for the company's line of privacy filters for computer screens.
The agency came up with the term "visual hacking" to describe the threat to laptop users in public places. To illustrate the issue, KC developed advertisements showing airline passengers furtively looking over the shoulder of a computer user sitting in the middle seat. "Keep wandering eyes off your laptop," the ad said. "Now you see it, now they don't."
Now 3M is running Round 2 in its laptop security campaign, with top corporate executives as its target audience.
"The C-Suite doesn't see the problem or the need for privacy because they are focused on physical hacking," said Dean Huff, KC's president. "We have to get them focused on visual hacking. It's real and it happens every day."
With Plasti Dip, KC learned that the Blaine-based company has a solid core of brand users who have taken the product far beyond its tool-handle origins and have even customized cars with the rubberized coating. KC named those users "Dipheads."
"When you embrace that group, it becomes Dipheads Unite," said Huff. "Plasti Dip has a quirky quality to it. You don't want it to be too fancy or it won't be true to its loyal customers."
A series of TV spots for Cost Cutters pictured consumers in a salon chair explaining in detail how they want their hair cut to a totally disinterested stylist. "Does your stylist really listen to you?" the ad asked.
KC, which used to be known as Kruskopf Coontz but lives by the abbreviation KC, is staffed with about 30 people located in the downtown Flour Exchange building. Kruskopf declined to reveal agency revenue but did note that income is on pace to increase 30 percent year over year in 2014.
"Truth is facts plus insight," said Kruskopf, who started the agency in 1988 with the late John Olson, who went on to lead his own agency, Olson. "Facts are things you know but facts are not emotional. Truth has soul and that's what it's all about."