How Oreo reshaped itself from advertiser into content creator.

6 min. reading

Oreo cookies have been on the market for more than 100 years. They sell over 92 million a day, and since 2013 the company has been actively working to transform its marketing, its overall philosophy, and its approach to advertising. Over the past few years, the formerly self-centered advertiser has become a responsive content creator that does great things with real-time marketing.

Nowadays, Oreo dominates social media. It has nearly 40 million fans on Facebook and more than 3.4 million followers on Instagram. However, it has not always been so popular.

Portrait of a pretty lovely girl wearing dress standing isolated over pink background, eating chocolate chip cookie

A cookie with no personality.

Oreo is the flagship and one of the oldest products owned by Mondelēz International, formerly Kraft Foods. It was only a few years ago that its marketers began to think about what makes these cookies unique.

Jill Baskin, who oversees global communication, says of Oreo:

„It's a strange-looking cookie. It's black and white. It's slightly bitter and a little strange.”

The brand found that people put “cookie” on their shopping list, but not “Oreo”. The cookie was literally crying out for a personality. All this began to change in 2013, when the marketers decided to go beyond conventional advertising and start actively using real-time marketing. All it took was a few hit posts on social media, including a viral tweet during a power outage at the Super Bowl, and the boring, black-and-white cookie became the crunchy, creamy personification of a captivating brand.

Although Oreo had begun to gradually build its own personality, its viral success did not happen over-night. It was backed by a long-term effort to re-examine established systems and processes and develop new skills that would help it to become a modern content creator.

For decades, Oreo had been associated with a repetitive, template-based advertisement that always took place in the kitchen and involved a glass of milk.

Mary Beth West, CMO at Mondelēz International, considers the beginnings of this marketing to be very self-centered:

“It was really scary how we only thought about ourselves and our brands. We played no role in the real world.”

“It was really scary how we only thought about ourselves and our brands. We played no role in the real world. We loved looking in the mirror, but it wasn't until we looked out the window that we realized that this brand could have a real impact on our culture.” 

Goings-on in the world as content.

Oreo gradually became more active and responded to various events in society. In addition to the afore-mentioned Super Bowl tweet, the brand also attracted attention during Gay Pride events, when photos of a rainbow-filled cookie accompanied by the text “Proudly support love!” were published.

During the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars, a picture of a red-filled Oreo cookie evoking Mars, its surface marked with tracks from the rover, did the rounds in the media. During the 2015 solar eclipse, a special issue of The Sun newspaper was published. The newspaper was inside a dark and only partially transparent plastic wrapper, with the Oreo cookie covering the Sun.

Jak se Oreu podařilo přejít 05 Oreo the sun bananapapers

In 2020, Oreo cookies entered the Guinness World Records book for the greatest number of people dunking an Oreo in their milk at the same time. The event was broadcast live on social media and attended by fans from all over the world.

However, social media is only one of the areas in which Oreo is increasingly visible. This year, for  example, the brand got together with Microsoft's Xbox game console and in 22 countries around the world, including the Czech Republic, called on the public to be more playful. For this purpose, a special edition of cookies was created; after putting together the right combinations of cookies, players receive game bonuses from Xbox.

 During the broadcast of the popular Game of Thrones series, Oreo came up with its own version of the title sequence, made entirely of cookies.

Blowing away the cobwebs.

Although, at first glance, individual activities may look like spontaneous actions, they are, in fact, based on much more complex strategies. In order for them to grasp this, it was necessary to change Oreo marketers' way of thinking.

The brand has always operated according to the mass advertising model - that is, that money was spent on gaining as much awareness as possible at the lowest price. However, this did not make the brand relevant on social platforms or persistent in people's minds, even after watching an ad. Nor was it effective in getting the product into shopping carts.

That's why Dana Anderson, the new vice president and director of marketing at Mondelēz, pulled marketers out of their creative shell. She cut through the bureaucratic processes that had led them to come up with ideas that met their managers’ expectations, rather than something more imaginative.

Anderson also phased out cooperation with traditional agencies, the company's relationships with some of them having lasted for more than 20 years.

New, smaller teams, working at a faster pace, began to emerge.

Bonin Bough was placed at the head of the digital team. This was a breath of fresh air at Mondelēz, and it challenged the traditional advertising models used up to that time. These often took no account of what individual brands wanted to achieve - especially the focus on television. Bough wanted to change this, so he came up with the idea of rewinding the awareness strategy to design a unique experience placing the brand at the center of communication. This communication was then deployed on the right media channels with the right creative ideas. He was therefore able to convince media partners to be as creative and flexible as creative agencies.

Oreo acquired a style and content that people enjoy. For example, in response to the possible entry of a small asteroid into the atmosphere, Oreo unveiled the Global Oreo Vault, a real asteroid-resistant shelter built to protect the recipe for the cookies. The activation almost immediately overwhelmed Twitter and other social media.

Jak se Oreu podařilo přejít 06 Vault bananapapersThe brand is also cleverly gaining the attention of Generation Z, which purposefully avoids common ad-vertising formats. For example, Oreo took advantage of its growing interest in online music shopping and introduced the DJ Mixer. Equipped with three mini turntables, it allows music fans to create 200 music compilations by playing Oreo cookies instead of records. With a humorous product worth nearly 30 USD, the brand has attracted attention and brought people to its e-shop.

Getting out of the comfort zone paid off.

Investments in brand experience content distributed through digital marketing have translated into a jump in sales, and according to Bough, the current goal is to maintain double ROI at the global level. According to Anderson, the key is to remain flexible and not lose the desire to try out new ideas.

The transformation of the Oreo brand was painful for both agencies and marketers. It was driven by the efforts of several courageous managers, the dissolution of long-standing collaborations, the development of creativity, and the rekindling of an appetite for innovative ideas. It was worth it. Oreo cookies, lying almost forgotten on the kitchen surface, are now an active part of our daily lives.

Sources: Fast Company, The Drum, The Atlantic, Xbox, Mondelēz InternationalRTBF.BE

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