A little girl in pigtails was giving comedian Gerry Dee a look of disgust.
During Candid Camera-style filming for a new commercial, Mr. Dee posed as a camp counsellor, handing out "grilled-cheese sandwiches" made with two globs of wilted spinach standing in for the bread. When he asked what she would prefer to eat, the little girl replied, "A peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich with real bread." In an adjoining room, monitoring the video feed, the team behind Dempster's newest campaign erupted in cheers.
The campaign, which launches Wednesday, is a significant digital investment by Canada Bread, the subsidiary of Maple Leaf Foods Inc. that oversees the Dempster's line. Its goal is to convert consumers to that little girl's way of thinking: that bread is a desirable part of their meals.
It is not a good time to be a purveyor of bread. The bestseller Wheat Belly, and a good slice of the larger dieting brain trust have all declared that bread – even whole wheat bread, depending on whom you believe – is tantamount to a drug that breeds dependence, and ruins our health and waistlines.
"As a brand, it's our responsibility to mention why bread is good for you. While there's a lot of attention in the media around the demonizing of bread and carbs, bread is part of a healthy diet and there are a lot of nutrients," said Maple Leaf`s director of digital and social marketing, Jerry Sen.
Dempster's has already launched this effort with its TV advertising: A current commercial by agency JWT Canada pushes a wholesome image, with a "bread farmer" pulling a bagged whole-grain loaf from the ground. The ad talks about bread's vitamin content, saying that it can help you to "maintain your weight and eat well."
The online campaign, by Toronto agency Cundari, is Maple Leaf's first major foray into video in social media, Mr. Sen said. The kids video will launch in the spring, but the campaign will kick off with another candid video featuring Mr. Dee working the counter at a juice bar, offering people vitamin additives and then stuffing bread slices into the smoothies of those who accept. The 90-second videos featuring Mr. Dee will be posted on a new Dempster's website and Facebook page, and will run as preroll ads that play before videos on YouTube. They will use the site's "TrueView" ad format, which allows viewers to skip after five seconds if they are not entertained.
A major purchase of ad space online, on Facebook, in mobile display and through search engine results will all direct consumers to a new website Cundari has created, which will also feature the videos, recipes, and a quiz about bread's nutritional value.
This is not the first time such a marketing push has been required. A decade ago, the rise in popularity of diets such as Atkins, South Beach and the Zone convinced dieters that the key to weight loss was a high-protein, low-carbohydrate food regimen. That sparked a marketing response: A number of bread makers, including Dempster's, released "low-carb" breads. Now, sales of Wheat Belly and wider concerns about gluten intolerance are reinvigorating the anti-bread sentiment.
Last May, at a meeting of the Baking Association of Canada, departing chairman Pete Plaizier spoke of the major shift in consumer perceptions of food – and the unprecedented view that bread makers are no longer seen as "good guys."
The Dempster's ad spend will spike this month, a key post-new-year period when people are thinking about their diets. Advertising spending on this initiative will continue throughout the year, with at least one more heavy-spending period yet to be decided. Like many marketers, Maple Leaf will be spending more on digital marketing this year.
"Our target market, moms, they're online," Mr. Sen said. "They're spending a lot of time in social networking and we know it's a place where we have a captive audience."
To capture that audience, many of the online ads will be placed on lifestyle websites and other content associated with the target market.
Cundari won the tender for the digital campaign last fall, and continues to work with the brand on future digital projects. "We're really psyched that Dempster's was brave enough to do something like this. We didn't expect them to. They wanted to do something different," group creative director Cory Eisentraut said, adding that the use of humour is key in digital marketing. Online viewers are more demanding, and need a reason to sit through a company's video.
Mr. Eisentraut is hoping that the antics will make the audience receptive to the ads' main message: "Maybe bread is not the devil."