Larsen Classic Taste Returns

Off to a Good Start (SILVER)

Client Credits: Maple Leaf Foods
Andrew Pollock, Senior Vice President, Marketing and Innovation
Andrew Armstrong, Vice President, Marketing
Kate Galbraith, Senior Director, Marketing
Stacie Misener, Marketing Manager, Hot Dogs
Lindsay Ho, Marketing Manager, Hot Dogs

Agency Credits: Target
Tom Murphy, Creative Director
Jenny Smith, Creative Group Head
Dax Fullbrook, Art Director
Sarah Park, Writer
Graham North, Junior Writer
Alyssa Free, Junior Writer
Adam Stephens, Video Editor
Yvonne Flower, Agency Producer
Laurelyn Berry, Group Account Director
Natalie Fleming, Account Manager
Bronwyn Cass, Account Executive

Crossover Notes:
All winning cases contain lessons that cross over from one case to another. David Rutherford has been identifying these as Crossover Notes since CASSIES 1997. The full set for CASSIES 2013 can be downloaded from the Case Library section at

Crossover Note 2. Brand Truths.
Crossover Note 6. Should the product be improved?
Crossover Note 9. Turnarounds.
Crossover Note 16. When a campaign stumbles.

To see creative, click on the links that are embedded in the case.


Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):February 2012 – July 2012
Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: 30 January 2012
Base Period as a Benchmark: February 2011 – July 2011

a) Overall Assessment

The traditional wiener category is alive and well in Atlantic Canada. One brand in particular – “the Larsen wiener” – is considered a grocery staple. Although owned by Maple Leaf Foods (MLF) for the past 30 years, the Larsen brand was originated by an immigrant who landed by ship in Halifax in the 1920s. These deep roots in Atlantic Canadian heritage, coupled with the brand’s exclusivity to the region, have created an almost evangelistic following. 

Despite this fervent consumer loyalty, MLF couldn’t have imagined the impending fallout that would occur when, in August 2010, it decided to change the recipe for Larsen wieners. To consolidate wiener production across MLF’s widespread operations, the Nova Scotia plant was closed, and production of Larsen wieners was moved to Ontario. Although the Larsen recipe was altered in the process, consumer taste tests indicated that the new formulation was acceptable. [Crossovr Note 6]

But MLF was quickly reminded that even in the world of taste-driven retail perception is reality. Once-loyal Larsen wiener consumers immediately expressed outrage about the product change. Consumer anger snowballed, permeating the walls of pop culture. Initiatives such as a “Get back our hot dogs” Facebook page with almost 1,500 fans, and a customer-written YouTube song, “Whatever Happened to the Larsen Wienie”, with over 2,700 views, created an environment of highly charged and disgruntled wiener consumers. [Crossover Note 2]

It goes without saying, then, that sales of the new formulation were disastrous. Consumption of Larsen wieners fell by 400,000 kilos in the year following the formulation change, resulting in a 23% decline in sales, and a 17% loss in market share (6.3 tonne share points) bringing the entire category down in the process. MLF had assumed that if any Larsen consumers didn’t care for the new taste formulation, they would switch to one of MLF’s other eight wiener brands. Instead, the majority of Larsen consumers stopped eating wieners altogether, causing the entire category to decline by -6%. 

So you can imagine the challenge faced when, just over a year later, in October 2011, MLF decided to reintroduce the traditional Classic Taste Larsen wiener to the Atlantic region. MLF aimed to reverse the sales decline, and regain its share position, by bringing back the old Larsen recipe. Not to mention, it planned to achieve this with a spend of less than $100,000, and while launching in winter, the slowest season for hot dog sales.

Our big question was: How could we win back the hearts and minds of once-loyal consumers? We immediately thought of the proverbial smoker who read so much about the dangers of smoking that he stopped reading. Why would consumers listen to anything Larsen had to say? By now, distrust of MLF and Larsen ran deep. [Crossover Note 16] 

b) Resulting Business Objectives

Despite the dire situation, MLF had ambitious objectives for the “Classic Taste Returns” campaign [Crossover Note 9]:

  • Halt the dramatic loss in sales (-23% in 2011).
  • Increase 2012 sales by 2% (dollars) and 3% (kilos).
  • Build increasing momentum to fuel sales and share growth for the balance of 2012 and into 2013.

c) Annual Media Budget
$100,000 - $200,000

d) Geographic Area
Atlantic Canada

a) Analysis and Insight

Since our key target group was (previous) Larsen wiener loyalists, our core consumer insight focused on their evangelistic passion for Classic Taste Larsen wieners. It was a great brand-building insight, and not to mention, a tantalizing creative platform. This enthusiasm had been evident over the past 50 years, but never as strongly as in the past year, when consumers were forced to live without them.

But to be successful in recapturing jilted consumers’ attention, we knew this insight needed additional layers. After all, just a year prior, MLF had taken away the very thing consumers were passionate about. We couldn’t just sweep that under the rug. It would take courage, but the taste crisis had to be acknowledged. Our approach needed to address these three additional consumer truths:

First: Consumers felt they didn’t matter to a big company like MLF. We had to show them they did matter, and that MLF listened to their feedback. This meant overtly acknowledging that consumers had won “The War on Wieners”.

Second: Consumers had their walls up, and distrust and disliking of Larsen now ran deep. It would take a major force to crash through that perceptual barrier. Not to mention, in winter, BBQs and wiener roasts weren’t exactly top-of-mind. The announcement that Classic Taste Larsen wieners were returning would have to stop consumers in their tracks. We needed whiplash.

Third: Atlantic Canadians have a great sense of humour, and can easily laugh at themselves. This meant we had permission to tickle their funny bone, and that our approach could be quirky and unexpected.

Woven tightly together, these consumer insights inspired our communications and creative strategy. We decided that the return of Classic Taste Larsen wieners was such an important event in the lives of Atlantic Canadians that it needed to be reported by the media – but not just by any media! The quirky Wiener News Network (WNN) was created as the source for breaking wiener news.

b) Communication Strategy

Our primary communication goals were to drive awareness that MLF had listened to Larsen’s customers, to rebuild liking and trust, and to create positive buzz about the brand.   

The creation of a satirical ‘CNN-meets-This Hour Has 22 Minutes’ news network, called the Weiner News Network (WNN), gave us the opportunity to announce the return of Classic Taste Larsen wieners in a cheeky and unexpected way. At the WNN it’s “all wiener, all the time”. Radio spots directed listeners to a Facebook page where visitors were greeted with quirky wiener-related news stories. With deadpan humour, the news anchors reported 24/7 on the return of Larsen Classic Taste wieners. The announcement was also made via The Weekly Wiener, a humorous FSI distributed through local Saturday papers.

a) Media Used


-Community TV


-Online Videos 

-Freestanding Insert

-Promotional Giveaways

-Social Media 

b) Creative Discussion

WNN gave us the opportunity to announce the return of Classic Taste Larsen wieners in a cheeky and unexpected way. After all, we wanted to both stop consumers in their tracks, and leave them wanting more.  

Blade  Janice

The news desk was staffed with co-anchors, Blade Decker and Janice Johnson, who were “always hungry for the truth”. They reported 24/7 on the celebrations that ensued upon the return of Larsen Classic Taste wieners.

With deadpan humour, they delivered news stories about important wiener events, like how “the last yucky wiener” had been cremated, and its ashes thrown off a tugboat anchored in Mahone Bay.

Facebook App - BJ

WNN viewers also learned how a Larsen fan lit his BBQ with an "eternal flame" saved from his last wiener roast with Classic Taste Larsen wieners over a year ago, which had been kept alive with candles in his windowsill as a “beacon to guide the classic taste home”. Another man had been miraculously awoken from a coma after smelling a Classic Taste Larsen wiener being eaten by a family member at his bedside. 

Also in the world of big wiener news, “Larsen”, and “Condi” (inspired by “Condiments”) made the list of Top Baby Names, while a top fashion designer created a perfume called “Hunger”, inspired by “the sweet scent” of the Classic Taste Larsen wiener, with “undertones of craving, famished longing and the passionate joy of reunion”.

In fact, there was so much wiener news to report on in Atlantic Canada that the WNN needed a news ticker at the bottom of the screen, with headlines like “Temperature in Atlantic Canada increases by 2 degrees due to wiener roasts and BBQs” and “Atlantic Canada names 2012 ‘Year of the Wiener’”.

For the six campaign videos (Healing, Coma, Angel, Baby Names, 27 Hours and Eau de Wiener) please refer to the attached electronic files. 

c) Media Discussion

Anxious to stem the steep sales decline, MLF decided it was critical to launch in early winter – traditionally, the slowest season for wiener sales.

With a media budget less than $100,000 we’d have to focus our paid communications on our best opportunity. Nova Scotia was our prime media target since, historically, the province accounted for Larsen’s highest product sales volume, and it was the loudest about the product change. Specific markets were further targeted based on historic sales volumes.

Our core creative idea was brought to life through a very strategic and integrated campaign that included radio, community TV, point-of-purchase, online videos, a freestanding insert (FSI), t-shirts and apron giveaways, and social media. 

The campaign was executed in two phases: The Teaser and The Relaunch.

Phase 1: The Teaser

The Teaser campaign launched on 30 January 2012 and was in market for three weeks. It included a news-themed radio spot that introduced the WNN, and humorously explained The Larsen Wiener Taste Crisis. The spot directed listeners to a Facebook page where visitors were greeted with similarly quirky, fake hot dog related headlines, and a tantalizing hint of exciting news to come.

Phase 1 - FB headlines

Larsen sales representatives were armed with t-shirts to wear at retail account meetings. The line read: “Technical difficulty is temporary...Do not adjust your wiener”.

Phase 1 TShirts


phase 1 - shelf talker


The Teaser Campaign also included a video that launched on community television. The video featured a series of emotionally-distraught people, and copy at the end reading: “We get it. You don’t like the recipe. Stay tuned.”

Please consult the attached electronic files named ‘Unbelievably Boring’ and 'Larsen Community TV’ for radio spot and community television video, respectively, for the Teaser creative.

Phase 2: The Relaunch

In late February, The Relaunch Phase began by triumphantly announcing the return of Classic Taste Larsen wieners.

Over a four-week period, two more news-themed radio spots from WNN covered Larsen wiener-related developments, as did posters with breaking news headlines such as “Atlantic Canadians Win War on Wieners: Classic Taste Returns” and “Wiener Crisis is over with Return of Larsen Classic Taste”. The WNN Facebook page continued to give fans all the exclusives.

Classic Taste wieners arrived back on shelves over the first two weeks of the campaign. The announcement was also made via The Weekly Wiener, a WNN-style FSI distributed through local Saturday papers.

Other media during this phase included Facebook ads, and in-store promotional items, including a shelf-talker and three posters. All communication materials directed consumers to the Facebook page, which was updated regularly with breaking wiener news, and a custom application where fans were presented with a chance to win Larsen swag.



Facebook breaking news headlines:

Facebook posts1

Facebook Posts 2



T-shirts & apron giveaway:

Phase 1 shirt  apron

Please consult the attached electronic files named ‘World Peace’ and ‘Listening’ for the Relaunch radio spots.

a) Sales/Share Results

Sales Measures 

MLF’s sales data demonstrate that over the first 6 months (February 2012 through July 2012):

  • The accelerating decline in Larsen sales (-23% in 2011) has been turned around
  • Sales in kilos have increased by 8.5% - almost triple the 3% objective
  • Sales in dollars have increased 11.3% - more than five times the 2% objective (Note that this higher dollar growth also means that the sales were achieved at improved pricing, not by discounting.)

Market Share & Consumption

Over the first 6 months (February through July 2012):

  • Consumption, as reported by ACNielsen,  increased by 9% -- indicating that the gains were with the consumer, and not shipments going into inventory
  • Market share increased by 11% (+3.3 points)


After the usual logistical problems associated with a re-launch such as this (e.g. some initial out-of-stocks at shelf level), sales have picked up month over month, posting +6%, +12% and +49% for May, June, July respectively. This bodes well for the longer term objective of extending the growth into 2013.

Consumer Engagement

Once-jilted consumers are enthusiastically engaged with Larsen’s Facebook page. With more than 2,500 fans, the Facebook page is almost twice as big as originally targeted. Further, it has already surpassed the number of fans on the original consumer-driven “Get back our hot dogs” Facebook page. Consumers are enthusiastically engaged in the content, commenting frequently and positively. In addition, consumers jumped at the opportunity to win Larsen campaign swag through a sweepstakes, with more than 200 entries received in the first 24 hours!

Retailer Enthusiasm & Support

Retailers anecdotally reported a three to five times sales lift during the first six months of the campaign. In turn, several of them committed to summer-long Larsen bunker displays at point-of-purchase. This retailer enthusiasm is an amazing achievement considering that these very same retailers suffered a dramatic sales decline in 2011 as a result of MLF’s decision to change Larsen’s recipe. 

b) Consumption/ Usage Results

c) Other Pertinent Results

d) Return on Investment

a) General Discussion

The relationship between advertising and the sales increase is clear. In particular, the sales increases directly mirror the timing of the campaign.

The campaign’s Teaser phase launched at the end of January 2012 and by March, MLF was already seeing year-over-year sales increases. These increases continued through the Relaunch phase of the campaign. 

These results were achieved despite the fact that we were up against a huge perceptual barrier, that we worked with a relatively small media budget, and that we launched in winter – the slowest season for wiener sales. 

“I am so happy. After eating Larsen wieners for years, I was disappointed when they changed their taste. I stopped eating hot dogs all together. Today I bought my first package of hotdogs in close to a year. Thank you!”

-One happy MLF customer

b) Excluding Other Factors
Spending Levels:

Working within a small budget all campaign activity had to be strategic. Our focus was to extend reach as much as possible for the greatest impact with the target audience. 


With the exception of a short-term coupon in the FSI ($0.75 off), the pricing strategy for Larsen wieners did not change over the first six months of the campaign.

Distribution Changes:

There were no major changes to other elements of the marketing mix that might have influenced the sales results. For example, there was no expansion of, or changes made to, the distribution channel. If anything, we were up against the same jilted retailers whose sales had suffered after MLF removed the original Larsen wiener from the market a year earlier.  

Unusual Promotional Activity:

During the time period of the campaign, there were no unusual promotional activities by MLF (Larsen) or their competitors. 

Other Potential Causes:

There were no other major initiatives that might have influenced these business results. Larsen’s success was not bolstered by market growth. If anything, market conditions would have hindered the campaign. Until the campaign launched, the entire wiener category in Atlantic Canada was in decline (by -6%) as a result of the Larsen product change that occurred the previous year.