Potato marketers neglect consumer diversity

03/29/2013 09:04:00 AM
Tara Schupner

Tara Schupner Congdon, Copy EditorTara Schupner Congdon, Copy EditorAt the U.S. Potato Board’s annual meeting a few weeks ago, John Keeling, chief executive officer of the National Potato Council, Washington, D.C., dumped the verbal equivalent of a bucket of cold water on the attendees.

Reflecting on the GOP’s poor showing in the November elections, Keeling told attendees they could learn from the GOP’s missteps and failure to recognize changing demographics.

“If the election told us anything, it is that there are not enough old white men here,” Keeling said, ticking off causes of the GOP’s implosion. “Republicans are terrible with women … they don’t understand how Hispanics think.”

While Keeling’s message focused primarily on the importance of immigration reform, potato board members (and the wider produce industry) would do well to contemplate the general gist as the board develops future marketing plans — especially after the “Five Seasons of Linda” campaign of its ongoing Linda marketing strategy wraps up.

Even as Keeling and other industry leaders — including outgoing board CEO Tim O’Connor and United Potato Growers of America president Jerry Wright — warn about the need to change, to move with the times, and combat public perception of taters as June Cleaver’s side dish, the board is conducting a carefully crafted marketing campaign that runs upstream, counter to demographic trends.

Its Linda campaign is built around a prototypical potato consumer who is a woman between the ages of 25 and 54, has children at home, is her family’s primary shopper and enjoys cooking. Subtle messaging, including through photos, also implies Linda is married and white. The board’s marketing team chose this composite because, according to its market research, Lindas are more likely to incorporate potatoes in weekly meals.

You know who Linda sounds like? A modernized June Cleaver.

Much of the board’s marketing strategy centers around objectives such as this: “Get Linda to serve potatoes for dinner one more time a week.”

But its research methodology is dangerously narrow. The surveys cited in its 2012 Research Overview booklet focus on the Linda category, almost to the exclusion of other categories of potato consumers. In its quantitative online surveys of shopping habits and use, Lindas comprised at least half the samples. But she buys 40% of potatoes, which leaves 60% in shopping carts that seem to be mostly off the radar.


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Denise Donohue    
DeWitt, Michigan  |  April, 07, 2013 at 02:59 PM

Tara - This is very bold and very thought-provoking. I believe you are right. The primary thing I can think of in defense of Linda is that you have to start somewhere, and if Linda/June is the biggest chunk of the consumer market, then it does make sense to start with her as the low-hanging fruit (already buying potatoes). But there ought to be mention of coming plans for the next 60 percent, to your point. Verrry interesting commentary.

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