NEW YORK: Kraft's Mac & Cheese successfully showed that product relaunches may initially benefit from being low-key in nature, as it deliberately decided to "push against" the hyperbole which usually accompanies such efforts.

Eric Zuncic, Chief Strategy Officer at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, and Kaylin Goldstein, the shop's VP/Group Strategy Director, discussed the award-winning Mac & Cheese relaunch case study at the 2016 Strategy Festival held by the 4A's (American Association of Advertising Agencies).

More specifically, they outlined how Kraft's announcement of a plan to remove artificial preservatives, colours and ingredients caused instant rumblings of discontent among consumers, who were worried the taste of Mac & Cheese would change as a result. (For more details, read Warc's exclusive report: How a new recipe – and smart strategy – revived Kraft Mac & Cheese.)

In response, Crispin and Kraft conducted a three-month "blind taste test" by selling boxes of Mac & Cheese that used the new recipe, but only flagged up the alteration on the ingredients panel on packs of Mac & Cheese.

"The whole point was to push against that chest-beating thing of, 'Hey, look at us: we've cleaned it up; we've taken out the artificial ingredients'," said Goldstein.

"From that insight, that tension – 'Don't mess with my Kraft Mac & Cheese' – came the strategy of 'Kraft Mac & Cheese is new and not improved'," she continued. "We needed to kind of undersell this, in a way."

And, after waiting several weeks to make sure that consumers really could not tell the difference in the iconic snack's flavour, Kraft then revealed its minor piece of brand subterfuge with a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek campaign.

The campaign saw an impressive uptick in sales, reversing previous declines.

Less than three weeks after the campaign launch, the blind taste test had generated more than 1.2 billion earned media impressions. It also drove a 291% increase in visits to compared to the previous month.

The campaign was featured in hundreds of media outlets, from E! to the New York Times, and coverage was overwhelmingly supportive: 92% of mentions and conversations had a positive tone. Stephen Colbert even devoted his entire Late Show monologue to the campaign.

"So they continued to decline after they changed the recipe but didn't tell anybody," Zuncic told the 4A's audience. Then, the instant that they told everybody about it, sales reversed, and have been sustainable since then.

"And I don't want to undersell the fact it took a ton of work, and the client held hands with us and said, 'Let's go and figure out how to do this'."

Data sourced from Warc