Extreme Baby Carrots: An Experiment In Marketing

An ad features airborne baby carrots

hide captionCarrot farmers are banking on a $25 million ad campaign to make carrots as cool as junk food.

Crispin Porter + Bogusky via AP

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If you try to tell teenagers that they should eat carrots because they are full of vitamins and good for their eyes, you're probably not telling them anything they don't already know. And, in fact, your message may be really annoying, says Ellen Thieken, a student at Mason High School near Cincinnati.

"When people hear 'healthy,' it scares them a little bit," says Thieken. "A lot of people are like, 'I hate healthy food. I don't want to eat vegetables and stuff.' "

So what are a bunch of carrot farmers who are trying to boost sales supposed to do? Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. A group of farmers have gotten together to launch a $25 million ad campaign aimed at making packaged baby carrots cool. The idea is that kids may eat more of them if they can think of carrots as a kind of junk food.

Rebranding 'Healthy'

In one ad spot, a beautiful young woman stands behind a machine gun. She's in the middle of a desert canyon, and she fires off rounds of carrots at a guy who is flying full-speed toward her in a motorized shopping cart.

Carrots: A Timeline

Since the early '90s, baby carrots and other fresh-cut carrots have become the fastest growing segment in the carrot industry, according to the USDA.  Here's a look at the evolution of the baby carrot.

Around 2,000 years ago: Carrots are first grown in what is now Afghanistan.

1700:  The Dutch cultivate orange carrots.  Before then, carrots were often purple or yellow.

1986: A California carrot grower invents the baby carrot to avoid throwing out some of the broken and misshaped carrots taken from the packing line.

Early 1990s: Baby carrots find mainstream appeal.

2006: Carrot consumption is at 11.8 pounds a person per year.

Source:  USDA

At the end of the ad, there's a big, fiery explosion when the grocery cart goes over the cliff. An adult might ask, "Why?" But according to high school senior Caleb Warwick, it's not about meaning — it's about feeling.

"It's just to show the overall sense that this is an extreme, just crazy, you know, new idea," says Warwick. "That's the explosion: the sheer power of awesome."

Convincing kids that baby carrots are extreme, and that the crunch is really awesome, may seem over the top. But marketing expert Bob McKinnon at YellowBrickRoad Communications says that's the whole point. Think about ads for Doritos or Mountain Dew.

"I think it's a satire on that," says McKinnon. "It's like junk food advertising is a bit ridiculous, so let's have fun with it."

He says that hopefully it will make kids want to eat baby carrots. It strikes a tone of irreverence and sarcasm that teenagers often appreciate.

Into Vending Machines

The carrot campaign also has a strategy to get bags of baby carrots into teenagers' hands easily via school vending machines. Mason High School is one of the first schools in the nation to try one out.

"Right now, it is a fad," says Warwick. He says that suddenly carrots seem very popular. "It's like: Oh my gosh, look — carrots."

It's not as if kids have never seen baby carrots. But the combination of the new packaging, the branding and the ads seem to be making them more appealing.

Packages of baby carrots

hide captionA new campaign is geared toward getting kids to think about carrots as a kind of junk food. Even the packaging is designed to look like it carries junk food.

"I think they're cute," Thieken says.

And they even seem to taste better, she says. "I think they're, like, more moist almost."

And with only 32 calories for a small bag, Thieken says it's a great snack.

Unlike the boys in her class, Thieken says she's not impressed with the action ads. "Guys love action movies because stuff explodes," she says. But she says the campaign may help carrots seem cool. As part of one of her classes at school, she's working with a group of students to come up with their own marketing plan.

Kids used to think of carrots as something that their mom put on their plates at dinner. But by putting baby carrots in vending machines, it puts them on even footing with other packaged snacks.

"I think it gives it more of a market than a vegetable at dinner," says student Cody Schrand. "It's something to eat during the day."

And maybe it's tastier because the packaging is funky and hip — and mom didn't pick it out.

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