CAMPAIGNS: Product PR - Go ahead, play with your food

Client: Reckitt Benckiser's French's mustard (Wayne, NJ)

Client: Reckitt Benckiser's French's mustard (Wayne, NJ)

Client: Reckitt Benckiser's French's mustard (Wayne, NJ)

PR Team: Bender-Hammerling Group (Montclair, NJ)

Campaign: French's Mustard-Make a Funny Food Face Campaign

Time Frame: May-November, 2000

Budget: dollars 55,000 (plus donation to Children's Museum of Manhattan)

Being top dog in the mustard biz isn't a job for the complacent. Sometimes even well-known consumer brands need to reach out to media and consumers. Such was the challenge facing Reckitt Benckiser, whose French's mustard has been one of the most recognized condiments in the US since its introduction in at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.

While currently number one in the mustard market, Reckitt Benckiser was looking for a PR campaign that would help retain mustard market share and play on the current advertising slogan, 'Smile! You've Got French's.'

Having advertising and PR that closely linked can be a double-edged sword notes Bender-Hammerling president Stacey Bender. 'It helps deliver overall message to consumers, (but) it doesn't make it any easier to get placement in publications,' she says. It can be more difficult, she adds, since most journalists are leery of appearing to cross the line between reporting and promotion.'


The company turned to its long-standing agency of record, the Bender Hammerling Group, to develop the Make a Funny Food Face Contest, which enabled people to get creative with the mustard.

The contest originated in 1998 on a much smaller scale, when Bender-Hammerling created a funny face promotion for French's consisting of a single press release. But it received such great response - the winning selection was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show - the effort was expanded this year to include an altruistic angle.

Bender used a community service element to separate the ad and PR efforts.

American Youth Museum organizations hosted self-standing displays and made entry forms available at children's museums across the country. Top entries were placed on display at the Children's Museum of Manhattan, and Reckitt Benckiser made a donation to the museum, although it would not reveal the amount of the donation.

French's is also hosting Food for Thought Month, a literacy-based program that runs in November and focuses on readings about nutrition, cooking and food art.

Noted children's author Saxton Freyman, writer of How Are You Peeling?

will present awards to the winners at a November 14 press event in New York, further reinforcing the contest's educational slant.


Bender-Hammerling contacted long-lead consumer magazines in June with one-page press releases and sample photos of faces made with hot dogs, hamburgers and turkey and ham sandwiches. The agency conducted phone follow-ups and provided background information, including recipes as requested.

In early September the process was repeated with lifestyle and food editors at newspapers and short-lead periodicals, again using a less-is-more approach in sending only single page releases.


Thousands of children and adults from across the country entered the contest. Two grand-prize winners received a dollars 2500 cash prize and a trip to the awards at the Children's Museum of Manhattan. Fifty finalists received dollars 50 US savings bonds.

The campaign resulted in coverage in targeted magazines such as Family Fun, Family Circle, Child, Home Cooking, Country Decorator, Family and Metro Parent. The contest was also covered by major newspapers including Long Island, NY's Newsday, the Nashville Tennessean, Fort Worth Star Telegram, Orlando Sun Sentinel, Staten Island Advance, St Paul Pioneer Press, Miami Herald and the Newark Star Ledger.

Reckitt Benckiser was so pleased with the food face contest that it altered its advertising content to mimic the PR campaign. Beth Lucey, brand manager for French's, said the campaign reinforced the company's 'Smile' theme and 'provided a way for us to hear directly from our consumers.'

French's maintains its rank as the best-selling mustard, but the company says it's too early to tell about the campaign's impact on mustard sales.


Bender-Hammerling is working with Manhattan radio and TV stations to cover the awards live. The contest will be an annual event.

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