MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
A bunch of carrot farmers have teamed up to launch a $25 million ad campaign. Their goal is to make packaged baby carrots cool. And their target audience is a tough crowd, teenagers.
NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.
ALLISON AUBREY: If you try to tell teenagers that they should eat carrots because the vegetable is full of vitamins and good for their eyes, you're not telling them anything they don't already know. And in fact, your message may be really annoying, says high school senior, Ellie Teagan(ph).
Ms. ELLIE TEAGAN (High School Senior): When people hear healthy, it scares them a little bit. Like a lot of people are like, I hate healthy food. Like, I don't want to eat vegetables and stuff.
AUBREY: So, what are a bunch of carrot farmers who are trying to boost sales supposed to do? Well, if you can't beat them, join them. Kids love junk food. How about getting them to think about carrots as a kind of junk food? Market them in the same edgy way.
Unidentified Man: Brought to you by a bunch of carrot farmers.
(Soundbite of commercial)
AUBREY: What you see in this video is a beautiful young woman behind a machine gun. She's in the middle of a desert canyon and she's firing off rounds of carrots at a guy who's flying full speed towards her in a motorized shopping cart.
(Soundbite of commercial)
AUBREY: That boom at the end is a big, fiery explosion when the cart goes over the cliff. The guy survives, but I had to watch the ad three times to figure out that it was the grocery cart exploding. I was trying to figure out why, but it turns out, that's not really the question to be asking. There is no real meaning to interpret here, says high school senior Caleb Warwick(ph). He thinks the ad works just because it creates an impression, a feeling.
Mr. CALEB WARWICK (High School Senior): It's just to show the overall sense of, you know, this is an extreme, just crazy, you know new idea. That's the explosion, just the sheer power of awesome.
AUBREY: Colonizing kids' brains with the idea that baby carrots are extreme and that the crunch is really awesome may seem over the top, but marketing expert Bob McKinnon(ph) says that's the whole point. Think about ads for Doritos or Mountain Dew.
Mr. BOB MCKINNON (Marketing Expert): I think it's a satire on that. It's just like, you know, this junk food advertising is a bit ridiculous and so let's have fun with it. And hopefully that'll make kids want to eat some baby carrots.
AUBREY: The irreverence and sarcasm may be just the right tone, given the target market here. But there's also the practical issue of getting baby carrots into teenagers' hands. How can carrots compete head to head with a bag of chips?
To address this challenge, part of the marketing strategy is to introduce baby carrot vending machines in schools. Caleb Warwick's high school in Cincinnati is among the first to have one. It was installed a couple of weeks ago and he says the novelty of it has suddenly made carrots very popular.
Mr. WARWICK: Right now it is a fad and it's, oh my gosh, look, carrots.
AUBREY: 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.
Ms. TEAGAN: I think they're cute. I like them.
(Soundbite of laughter)
AUBREY: Caleb's classmate Ellie Teagan says, these baby carrots even seem to taste better than other carrots.
Ms. TEAGAN: I think they're, like, more moist almost.
AUBREY: Ellie says it's a great low-calorie snack. Unlike the guys in her class, Ellie is not impressed with all the action ads, even if they do make carrots seem cool. And putting them in a vending machine, says her classmate Cody Shrand(ph), means you no longer think of carrots as something your mom serves you.
Mr. CODY SHRAND (High School Senior): I think it gives it more of a market than just a vegetable at dinner. It's something to eat during the day.
AUBREY: Something you get to pick out and mom doesnt. How about that for knowing your market?
Allison Aubrey, NPR News.