Watch the Stove – Marketing Lessons

If you haven’t already heard about Watch the Stove, the amazing mixtape released by Hamburger Helper as an April Fool’s Joke, you are missing out. Yes – Hamburger Helper, that macaroni and cheese dish that you add a pound of ground beef to, with a cartoon glove as its mascot. Listen to their SoundCloud here – I strongly recommend Feed the Streets.

I sat at home on a Friday night, feeling silly that I was kicking off my weekend by listening to a mixtape about ground beef, released by a cartoon glove. I even made a facebook status about said feelings, and posting a link to the soundcloud. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? This “joke” turned out to be an amazing feat of the Hamburger Helper team and went viral, with millions of listens in a matter of days. The Watch the Stove mixtape was so successful, it even raised General Mills’ stock price by more than a point on the release day.

So why am I telling you about this mixtape? You mean, other than the fact that it’s amazing and I want to spread the cheesy joy? We as marketers can learn a lot from this glove “Lefty”, and can apply it to our own work.

Create Amazing Content

There’s no doubt the mixtape was a huge undertaking. Someone had to create the lyrics, the music, professionally record the tracks in a studio, and there was even a production budget for music videos. Companies might not want to spend the time and money on pet projects, that don’t have guaranteed returns. As long as you are true to your audience, whether it be solving a problem, satisfying a need, or whatever else, if you build it, they will come. Hear it from Liana Miller, the marketing communication planner and creative lead behind the mixtape – “It’s just good content. At the end of the day, it’s most important to create something worthwhile that makes you want to listen to it and not feel like you’re being sold to.”

Don’t Push Your Brand too Hard

This mixtape had so much potential to just be a parody or jingle-type song. Like Miller said, you don’t want to feel like you’re being sold a product. It’s almost kind of off-putting when you are. The team really did a fantastic job in this aspect. They subtly mention Lefty, their mascot, in a few songs, have one self-titled song, and even feature Lefty in a music video to keep the brand in mind without being overly pushy. As an SEO, I equate this to keyword optimization vs. keyword stuffing. You want to let the audience know what the page is about, without having the key phrase forced into every sentence and sound completely unnatural. AdWeek put out a great piece on how the content got created if you’d like to learn about the process, and read my blog post on lessons from the Conductor c3 conference for other great examples of creating content for the people by the New York Times.

Know your Audience

While Hamburger Helper’s commercials and other forms of advertising usually depict busy moms and families that utilize their product as a quick dinner option, a good portion of their demographic is actually college students who want to step up their easy-mac game. They’ve amassed tens of thousands of millennial twitter followers and frequently chime in on pop culture events. The idea for a mixtape actually came as a suggestion from twitter followers to be submitted in the epic battle between Drake and Meek Mill. Hamburger Helper gave the people what they wanted, but other aspects of the mixtape made it *flame emoji*, rather than a flop.

Pop Culture References Help Users Connect

First off, Watch the Stove – what a clever title. A play on the popular Jay-Z and Kanye West album title Watch the Throne immediately catches the attention of the audience, and makes it extremely memorable, and hashtaggable, if that is a word. Feed the Streets, their most popular song, is also the title of Chief Keef’s album. My favorite reference, however, is the reference to another recent viral video, none other than Drake’s Hotline Bling.

Obviously if these references are lost on the intended audience, there’s nothing for them to talk about, and the PR stunt loses steam. However, these references span outside of the hip hop realm and into the general public. It would be difficult to find someone who hasn’t heard of the Drake music video. Bonus points because it was in a commercial that aired during the Superbowl, which was watched by over 100 million people. When the audience recognizes and understands the reference, there’s an “aha!” moment that occurs that automatically draws them closer. Sometimes, all it takes is a clever pun to make people want to share something.


Partner Up

If an area isn’t your specialty, find an expert who can help you create your content. Do you think the marketing team at Hamburger Helper could have done this by themselves? 99% no. By teaming up with the McNally Smith College of Music, General Mills used the students’ expertise to launch their vision and gave some college kids a shot to do something really cool before they even graduate. These students are basically set up for success after school now and the mixtape put McNally Smith on the map. Everyone loves a mutually beneficial deal.

So you learned something from a glove. There’s no magic formula to going viral, but there’s definitely elements that help. Know who you’re creating content for and keep it organic, not salesy. Your content might not reach the scale of 5 million and counting, but you’ll be able to better connect with your audience. *mic drop*

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