Heinz had already proven with the launch of its green ketchup that kids were willing to accept condiments in more than one color - as was the media.
Late last year, Heinz launched Funky Purple EZ Squirt ketchup with the help of Jack Horner Communications, who whetted the media's appetite by offering up a few possibilities as to what color the new ketchup would be, and then unveiled it as purple as the product reached store shelves.
Soon thereafter, Heinz set out to launch one of three new colors: Awesome Orange, Passion Pink, or Totally Teal. But instead of having the media and consumers guess what color Heinz would release, all three were produced in opaque Heinz Mystery Color EZ Squirt bottles, the idea being that kids wouldn't know what color ketchup they'd be getting until it was already squirted onto their food.
The problem, however, was figuring out how to get the media, grocery stores, and consumers interested in the idea of more colors of ketchup while simultaneously making the launch even bigger than that of Funky Purple EZ Squirt.
Heinz decided to work with Horner again, but both parties knew they had to put a new twist on the Funky Purple formula, since Heinz was offering up not one new color, but three.
"We had to be different the second time around because Mystery has an entirely different story,
says Jack Horner, president of Jack Horner Communications. "With three unexpected colors coming out of that nozzle, we had to treat it in a completely different way."
Moreover, with only 1 million bottles of Mystery Color being produced, Horner needed to generate enough excitement about the product that Heinz could get a better sense of what kids really want on their French fries.
"The most important thing was to develop a campaign that would stand alone,
contends Michael Mullin, senior communications manager of Heinz North America.
"The main thing was to announce the product early,
"The reason was to drum up support from the sales organization, and show them all the excitement we were creating. That showed the grocery stores that they needed to order it because people were excited about it."
To excite consumers about Mystery Color, Horner worked the media by sending out several hundred press kits to print and broadcast outlets. Each kit had a bottle of Mystery Color, along with a press release and photos, and was shipped in a paint can drizzled with the three new ketchup colors.
On each can's label were the words, "You don't know until you squirt."
Meanwhile, Heinz launched EZSquirt.com, where kids were encouraged to go and vote for their favorite color. "It's like the world's largest focus grip,
says Mullin. "Kids are the number-one consumers, so we're going to listen to what they have to say."
Having generated 107 million impressions spread across outlets such as USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle, Chicago Sun-Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Denver Post, NBC's Today show, and The Tonight Show, all 1 million bottles of Mystery Color were pre-sold to grocery stores several weeks before the official launch date in April.
"Stores pre-ordered the entire run on the buzz created by PR,
claims Horner. "When you can show them clips from USA Today, that's very effective,
And once all of the bottles were placed on store shelves last month, they began to disappear almost as quickly as they arrived.
The EZSquirt website is still taking kids' ketchup color suggestions, and the results of the poll will be available in a few weeks. Based on the findings, Heinz may choose to launch Awesome Orange, Passion Pink, or Totally Teal as its next color - or maybe two of them, or none at all.
"The good news is the product sells,
says Horner. "It's just a fun thing."