Land of 10,000 Stories: Minn.'s iconic SPAM brand getting social

MINNEAPOLIS - Spending hours of work time surfing the internet is the kind of thing one normally tries to hide from the boss. But at advertising agency BBDO Proximity, the boss is fully on board.

What's trending on Twitter and other social media is a key component of the latest development in one of the oldest relationships in Minnesota advertising.

When Hormel launched its SPAM brand of canned meat in 1937, BBDO wrote the copy in the newspaper and magazine ads. When the time came, BBDO oversaw SPAM's television commercials too.

"Incredibly, we're still servicing them today," says Bryan Ojala, who manages the SPAM account for the agency. It's almost unheard of, he says, for an agency to keep a client for more than 75 years.

But just as print advertising transitioned to radio and TV, the business is changing again. It's the reason agency employees are beginning their day in a break room, surfing the web in search of social media trends.

Within minutes that information is being fed to copywriters, the first step in the production of topical videos that will be posted on Twitter the same day.

In a business where television commercials can take months to produce, the notion of producing videos in a few hours is mind-bending indeed - but necessary, says Ojala, because "the social media is just instantaneous."

The videos feature "Sir Can-A-Lot," a fictional animated character launched as part of SPAM's 75th anniversary.

Though the writing is done in Minneapolis, scripts must be sent to Los Angeles where a voice actor is standing by in a studio. The animation is then built by a production company in Portland, Oregon.

Both the scripts and the final product are approved by Nicole Behne, who oversees the SPAM brand for Hormel. "We're all working for the same thing, which is to have one of these videos go viral and to really make a splash out there and help us to make Sir Can-A-Lot famous," she says. "I want him to be as famous and Tony the Tiger and the Pillsbury Doughboy eventually."

In a recent 7 day run, BBDO Proximity posted 70 of the videos, with themes ranging from spring break to a dance craze known as twerking.

Agency employees mine Twitter feeds to respond directly to people posting on targeted topics, attaching SPAM videos. "It's all about making our followers feel special, making someone feel special and hope they share with all their friends," says Gabi Winkels a social strategist at the ad agency."

An early score came when an actor on the TV show Glee retweeted a Glee-themed SPAM video to more than a million of his followers.

Though the first phase of the project has wrapped up,Ojala believes it's just a starting point. "This is not something that's an experiment; this is the way it's going to be."


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