“They are neon orange, outrageously crunchy and strangely addictive.”

No, Omid Farhang, vice president and group creative director at the ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, isn’t describing Xxxtra Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or All Nighter Cheeseburger Doritos—although he could be. Farhang is talking about carrots, baby carrots to be exact.

“Baby carrots have a lot in common with junk food,” Farhang says. “The only thing missing is the junk food advertising.”

Not any longer.

Stealing a page from the potato chip playbook, Farhang and his team at CP+ B launched “Eat ’Em Like Junk Food,” an advertising and packaging campaign for Bolthouse Farms and its baby carrots. The $25 million campaign features junk food-inspired TV spots, billboards, packaging, school vending machines and even an iPhone game called Xtreme Xruch Kart, which is powered by crunching carrots into the phone.

“What we really are trying to do is change the way people think about fresh fruits and vegetables,” says Bryan Reese, chief marketing and innovation officer at Bolthouse Farms. “We are trying to make baby carrots a brand and not a vegetable anymore.”

To date, the baby carrots advertising is playing in only two markets: Cincinnati and Syracuse, New York. The in-store advertising and packaging can also be found in San Antonio, Texas.

When it was launched in August, the baby carrots campaign generated a remarkable amount of buzz given its small scope. It was talked up on National Public Radio and featured in USA Today, Huffington Post and Ad Age. In October, Bolthouse Farms earned more national coverage for the campaign with its Scarrots product—individually wrapped bags of baby carrots all dressed up for Halloween trick or treating.

“That impact is resulting certainly in increased consumption, but we are also getting some other benefits from it,” Reese says. “We know that people are talking about baby carrots more. We can measure that by looking at how often baby carrots are mentioned in blogs and how many people come to our website [www.babycarrots.com] to find out more information about the campaign. Lots of people are asking to get these kinds of campaign elements in their markets. So far the feedback has been very, very good.”

NewHope360 spoke with Bolthouse Farms and CP+B to learn more about the thinking behind the baby carrots campaign and to tease out what marketers of other healthy products can learn from this approach.

Irrational advertising

About $1 billion is spent annually on baby carrots. Although a relatively sizeable market, it pales in comparison to the $18 billion spent each year on salty snack food. It’s also a market that wasn’t growing—hence, Bolthouse Farms’ advertising infusion designed to change the way America views baby carrots and other healthy snacks.

Yet, how do you market a product that is fundamentally liked but not loved the way junk food typically is? That’s the puzzle the team at Crispin Porter + Bogusky had to solve with its carrots campaign.

In doing so, the Boulder, Colorado-based advertising firm could have focused on the most important thing baby carrots—and other colorful veggies—have going for them: Their health profile. But that would have been boring—and, as far as Farhang is concerned, totally uninspired. “It seems like an awful waste of ad dollars to tell someone that a vegetable is healthy,” he says.

People know baby carrots are healthy, they just don’t feel much connection to them. “The rational part of the decision making that goes into what people are eating we’ve got—baby carrots are a very rational choice,” Reese says. “But we were missing the emotional connection around snacking and people’s normal consumption behaviors.”

CP+B is attempting to forge this connection through its tongue-in-cheek positioning of carrots as every day junk food. “Kids get it instantly—they get how silly it is, and they like it,” Reese said. “They know because they are being bombarded with this kind of marketing all the time.”

Although Frito-Lay and other junk food purveyors aren't likely feeling too threatened by Bolthouse Farms' baby carrots campaign, the effort is causing some people to think differently about their snack choices. Some even think the baby carrots in the new packaging taste better, Reese says.

“We are trying to create a healthy option for people who snack,” Reese adds. “If someone has absolutely no interest in incorporating a healthy product into their diet, we won’t make an impact. But we can influence those people who are open to grabbing something healthy and think it's a good idea to start doing that.”

Inspiring the way an industry markets itself

Bolthouse Farms—which is run by Jeffrey Dunn, a former president at Coca-Cola North America—doesn’t plan to stop with baby carrots. In fact, the company is reviewing how it is positioning all of its products, which include healthy beverages and dressings.

“We are in the middle of a really fun time here at Bolthouse, where we are transitioning from viewing our self as a farming company to a healthy snack and beverage company,” Reese says. “The minute you make that mind shift, everything changes to become very consumer centric.”

Bolthouse Farms is joined in the baby carrots campaign by 49 other carrot producers. Together they are billed as a “Bunch of Carrot Farmers.” Still it’s pretty clear Bolthouse is footing the bill.

“Our hope is that the real takeaway from all of this is that we as an industry—not just the produce side of the business, but the whole health and wellness food industry—will change the way we are doing things,” Reese says. “These rational approaches to trying to get people to eat healthier and all the preaching that the industry and government have been doing—none of it is working.”

CP+B's Farhang says he hopes the baby carrots campaign will show the natural, organic and healthy products industry the opportunities out there to view its products in entirely new ways. "It feels like this [the baby carrots campaign] could be the beginning of something big," he says.

The baby carrots takeaway

So what can healthy food companies learn from Bolthouse Farms’ approach to marketing and advertising?

Lots, says Shawn Parr, CEO of Bulldog Drummond, a branding and innovation consultancy in San Diego. “If you look at the natural space, everyone is doing, saying and behaving in pretty much the same way. Once brands in this industry reach a certain size, they tend to start to behaving rationally and forget the emotional piece.”

Pulling off a marketing overhaul like the baby carrots campaign obviously takes some serious money, but any company can redefine its branding and advertising approach, says Parr, whose company has worked with such brands as Starbucks, CLIF Bar, Cleanwell, Nestle and Pinkberry.

Parr offers these brand-building tips for natural, organic and healthy products companies:

1)      Define your purpose: A company’s reason for being drives its point of differentiation and should be infused within its branding and marketing. "This has to be the first step in defining the foundation for your brand," Parr says.

2)      Get to know your customers: “Really understand what makes them tick,” Parr says. “Don’t just assume they are LOHAS moms with kids.” Once you know your customers, you can build connections with them.

3)      Analyze the “enemy”: “Understand what you are pushing up against,” Parr says. “It could be a societal trend like obesity or an institute like fast food. Identifying the enemy is a great tool for discovering how to be different.”

4)      Focus on your origins: Think about your origin story—not only about how your company was started, but also where your ingredients come from and the relationships you have with your suppliers.

5)      Tell your story: Once you’ve crafted your brand story, figure out how to tell it in the most compelling way possible. “Often times companies want to jam everything on their packaging, but that often doesn’t work,” Parr says. “Figure out how to judiciously use the tools available to you to effectively engage consumers.”

6)      Be passionate and authentic: “The world doesn’t need another food brand, another drink or bag of chips,” Parr says. “What consumers totally relate to is passion and authentic companies that are bringing something of value to the world.”