AUSTIN, MN: "Jackson has a superpower and that superpower is called ‘autism.’ His superpower is so special that he will only eat very super and specific foods, and there are not many that qualify to make his list. The best of the best is Spam and only Spam."
That’s the opening to a letter that Spam received from nine-year-old Jackson’s mom, Tiffany Sizemore, in July that galvanized parent Hormel Food to honor superfans of the company’s brands.
After she received the letter, Hormel corporate communications manager Theresa Myers jumped on the phone to talk to Sizemore for an hour to hear more about her family’s situation. Myers learned that Jackson’s brother, Wesley, is a cancer patient.
"There has been a lot of media coverage and attention for Wesley, and Jackson was on the sidelines because what his brother was dealing with was so serious," Myers explained. "So [Sizemore] was so thrilled we would consider doing anything for [Jackson]."
Hormel CEO Jim Snee was so touched by Jackson’s story that he sent him a letter back, along with a care package full of Spam gear.
"It could have ended right there," said Wendy Watkins, VP of corporate communications. "Many companies would have just ignored [Sizemore’s] email or sent her a form letter, but that’s not Hormel Foods."
Spam brand manager Brian Lillis took the company’s response one step further. He had plans to make a pit stop in Louisville, Tennessee, as part of a family vacation. Coincidentally, that is where Jackson and his family lives. He decided to make a slight detour, along with 20 of his own family members, and throw Jackson a Spam-themed party. One of Lillis’ cousins even dressed as the Spam mascot for the party.
The marketing team added a personal touch to the experience, fashioning a cape for Jackson because, in Sizemore’s words, Spam makes him feel like a superhero. Lillis brought a photographer and videographer to the party to capture everything.
"When we went to Jackson’s house, we wanted to capture it, but we didn’t know what we would do with [the footage]," said Lillis. "We wanted to capture it if it was a special moment, and it was."
The Hormel team also asked him to fry Spam, which, as Sizemore explained in her letter, Jackson knows how to do "to perfection."
"He fried some up for us and served a member of the family, as well," said Lillis. "That is where you saw a comfort in his element and being able to do that. It was great to be able to talk to the family about how they use the product and how we are able to help them out on a daily basis."
The idea for a new initiative—Inspired Fan—was born from Lillis’ effort. Hormel also ties the push to a new purpose statement it created to celebrate its 125th anniversary last summer: "Inspired people. Inspired food."
"As part of that, we are trying to live a more inspired culture at Hormel Foods," explained Watkins. "We want to bring our purpose statement to life."
Watkins said Sizemore’s letter inspired the communications team and was the perfect example of the company’s purpose.
"[We are doing this] for people like Jackson – a child who clearly has special needs and our product has somehow made his life better," she said. "As clichéd as that sounds, that is what the people who come to work here care the most about."
Inspired Fan will launch on Hormel’s website and on social media on November 1. Hormel’s in-house comms team is leading the effort.
Instead of telling the story from a corporate comms or brand perspective, Hormel has enlisted freelance journalists to talk to fans like Jackson and get more information. Tiffany Sizemore told the entire story of "Jackson the Superhero" to journalist Ethan Watters.
In his write-up, Sizemore described Jackson’s autism diagnosis amid his brother Wesley’s chemo treatments, as well as Jackson’s unabashed love for Spam: "He got super excited last Christmas when his stocking was stuffed with Spam classic."
Watters’ write-up will appear in Hormel’s internal magazine Inside. It will also be published on Hormel’s website with a video, featuring footage from the Spam party, about Jackson’s story.
Lillis added that the stories about the work Hormel does for fans are also meant to inspire the company’s employees.
Hormel plans to spotlight Inspired Fans for each of its products—including Skippy, Muscle Milk, Jennie-O, Wholly Guacamole, and Hormel Chili—as and when they find them, organically.
"We want stories to come to us like Jackson’s did, instead of forcing ourselves to go out with some arbitrary deadline to go and find them," said Watkins. "We are not going to be necessarily out searching for these folks. Once you get to know your customers on a deeper level, you find some amazing things out about them."