Chobani Challenges Consumers to Get Real

The Greek yogurt business in the United States is moving in inverse proportion to the state of the Greek economy—up, up, up. In 2008 this thicker, richer version of the dairy treat accounted for a mere 3% of yogurt sales, according to UBS research. But four years later, one third of all yogurt sold in supermarkets was of the Greek persuasion. Very unlike the troubled Mediterranean nation where this recipe had its genesis, Greek-style has energized the yogurt economy, fueling an increase from $4.9 billion in sales in 2007 to $6.4 billion in 2011, according to SymphonyIRIGroup.

Chobani, a company born in 2005 when investor Hamdi Ulukaya snapped up a shuttered Kraft yogurt plant, laid claim to some 47% of the Greek yogurt market by 2012, according to Nielsen estimates. Meanwhile, Danone’s Dannon Greek brand accounted for 20% and General Mills’s Yoplait entry claimed but 6%. Not only does Chobani intend to retain its leadership position in the sub-category, it has launched its biggest marketing campaign to date in an effort to unmask its big-company competition as pretenders hawking non-authentic products.

Ulukaya’s concept in buying that yogurt plant was to mass produce the Greek-style yogurt that could then only be purchased in health food stores or made at home by putting regular yogurt through a strainer and waiting for days. He re-outfitted the factory with custom straining machines that could mass-produce authentic yogurt, and when his concept proved a supermarket sensation in 2007, the yogurt powers marched out competitive products minus the fancy machinery. Instead, they thickened the yogurt with added ingredients like carrageenan. A recent editorial in a supermarket trade magazine floated the idea that the Greek yogurt category could benefit from a standard of product identity. Until then, Chobani is on a mission to make its products the definition of the category for consumers.

“Through increased education on what real Greek yogurt is–authentic strained like Chobani–we hope to empower consumers to choose a brand that stands for something more,” says Emily Schildt, Chobani’s director of consumer engagement.

“Go Real Chobani” launched with a commercial run on the Academy Awards TV Broadcast on February 24. Created by Boathouse, the spot ran music behind slice-of-life vignettes showing people (and dogs) of all ages, sizes, genders and colors doing active things and eating Chobani. Throughout, mottoes including “Real is simple,” “Real is authentic,” and Real is strong” appear on the screen. Most of the action in the campaign, however, takes place on second screens, where a digital component tagged “Taste Real” invites consumers to taste Chobani and post comments and photos on social media attesting to the authenticity of the brand. The hashtag #tastereal was created for Twitter posts.

“We decided that the best way to get people to understand what real was, was to get them to taste it and share about it in social media,” says Tatiana Peck, senior strategist at Big Spaceship, the agency that constructing the social campaign. “First-time experiences get burned into people’s memories, so we offered coupons for trial on social media and created an aggregator that put together all these first-time experiences being shared on Twitter and Pinterest.”

Screens on the company website and Facebook page titled “My First Taste of Real” contain buttons for coupons and links for sharing their first impressions of Chobani, plus photos commemorating the event. Peck’s favorite tweet during the campaign’s first week was “First time having the pineapple. Wanna be on the beach with a cabana boy bringin me more. A Chobanna boy.”

Chobani’s goals for the social elements of the campaign are more oriented toward share-of-mind than share-of-market. “To us, qualitative feedback is far more important than quantitative data when measuring results for social media,” says Schildt. “We look to what our fans are saying and what they’re engaging with most to inform our content and engagement strategy. If we’ve sparked a dialog with consumers and empowered brand evangelists on what makes Chobani real, that is success.”

Chobani is also running online display ads with the tagline “Real Is Just a Spoonful Away” to urge people to click through to the coupon offer.

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