James Hurman examines the 2023 Cannes Lions Creative Effectiveness Gold winner, ‘Draw Ketchup’ for Heinz by Rethink Toronto, in the third instalment of his EFF BOMB series.

This year in Cannes I gave a handful of private presentations to client organisations who’d sent delegations of their marketers to the festival. I’d prepared all my presentations prior to the week and I was feeling piously on top of everything until I got word from the Lions Advisory team, halfway through the week, that one of the companies didn’t want to hear my presentation.

They weren’t interested in listening to me talk about the subject of my most recent book, Future Demand, feeling that it was too startup-oriented. They were, after all, a large house of market-leading brands. They asked that I give them a different presentation – a point of view on how mature brands are using creativity to drive effectiveness.

So, in the jetlagged, hungover, sunstroked haze in which I stumble through Cannes each year, I sat at my laptop, panicked a little, and reviewed the work that had won Lions by that stage in the week.

As ever there was plenty of great work for big brands. Including from my country New Zealand, who’d won two Grands Prix for a large insurer and a large telco. But it was another campaign that caught my attention.

‘Ketchup Fraud’, Rethink Toronto’s brilliant campaign for Heinz, had won gold in the Outdoor Lions. Depicting restaurant staff refilling Heinz bottles with generic ketchup, the campaign proved that ‘even when it isn’t Heinz, it has to be Heinz’.

The work is sublime, perhaps even perfect, and I’m not sure there’s a brand that better typifies ‘mature’. Heinz is a 150-year-old, globally ubiquitous brand with a market share of over 70%.

So, onto a PowerPoint slide it went.

The last four years have been a blitz for Heinz and their agencies – especially Rethink. From ‘Pour Perfectly’ and ‘Ketchup Puzzle’, to ‘Hot Dog Pact’ and ‘A.I. Ketchup’, Heinz have consistently found new ways to make one of the oldest products in the supermarket feel newly iconic.

After just one Lion-winning campaign in the 2010s, Heinz Ketchup has won 32 Lions since 2020, for 14 different campaigns.

The especially impressive thing about all that great work is that it’s been exemplary from a brand management perspective. Campaign after campaign, Heinz’ distinctive assets haven’t just been incorporated into the work. They feel like they are the work. The red! The keystone! The bottle! Ideas that are both exhaustively branded and ingeniously creative are elusive, to say the least. Heinz and Rethink make it look like they can knock them out in their sleep.

And, when I woke up from mine on Friday morning, I saw that they’d won another gold – this time in Creative Effectiveness for perhaps the best campaign of them all: ‘Draw Ketchup’.

The agency asked people all over the world to do one simple thing. Draw ketchup. They were asked anonymously, and Heinz wasn’t mentioned. Yet 97% of them drew Heinz. The glass bottle, the Heinz keystone, the tomato on the label, the famous “57”.

Some of the drawings were detailed and artistic. Others were crude sketches. But they were nearly all Heinz.

The drawings were turned into a global campaign. They were made into stickers that replaced the actual Heinz label on the bottle. They were auctioned as pieces of art.

And together they proved that, even though there are thousands of ketchup brands in the world, there’s really only one that matters.

When advertising campaigns work, they do so by taking three key, consecutive steps. First, they stand out and gain attention. Next, they make people feel better about the brand and product. Then, as a product of those first two steps, they drive sales and profit outcomes.

Draw Ketchup aced all three.

The campaign generated over $5.8M in earned publicity – 127 times the media investment. Social engagement with the work was 1,495% above the industry benchmark, leading to over two billion global impressions.

The brand’s health improved. Normally that’s not too difficult to achieve with a decent campaign. But when you’re a brand that already has 93% awareness and 92% consideration, expecting much more is, at best, wishful. The fact that Draw Ketchup grew Heinz’ awareness to 99% and consideration to 98% is kind of absurd.

Likewise, when your market share is already 72.6% of a busy category, it’s downright unreasonable to expect more. And yet Heinz got more. Their market share grew to 75.6% as their already colossal sales grew another 10%. The even more gravity-defying outcome was that those sales happened as they increased the product’s price.

From an effectiveness perspective, there were three things that Heinz did with Draw Ketchup that produced those results.

Firstly, they targeted very broadly. The idea itself is based on a universal insight – that when people think of ketchup, they think of Heinz. Not a certain segment of customers. Everyone, everywhere. The campaign was global and inclusive from the start. The people they asked to draw ketchup were from all walks of life, in 18 countries across five continents. And the fame that the campaign generated saw it spread and gain the attention of hundreds of millions of people all over the world. We know that campaigns that target very broadly to reach ‘all category buyers’ are the most effective. And Heinz planned for that from the start.

Secondly, they used the brand’s distinctive assets as masterfully as ever. In fact, they used real people to confirm without a shadow of a doubt that those assets truly are distinctive. When you think ketchup you think Heinz. And when you think Heinz, you think of the keystone, the colour red and the number 57. Continual use of distinctive assets make advertising more intrinsically well-branded and assisted in maintaining mental availability. Heinz are becoming the GOAT of distinctive assets and mental availability.

Thirdly, they paired all that logic with the magic of emotion and creativity. They didn’t try to communicate the features and benefits of Heinz Ketchup at people. That’s the preserve of lesser, weaker marketers. They drew on the emotional connection people have with their brand and product, as they have become adroit at doing. We know that consumers are willing to pay more for brands they feel emotionally closer to – which explains why they could lift both their price and their market share at the same time. And they found a creative idea and execution that was truly original, unavoidably engaging and crafted to perfection – the creative award-winning qualities that we know massively amplify the effectiveness of campaigns.

My favourite piece of effectiveness research was done in 2009 at the Stockholm School of Economics. They showed one group of people a not-very-creative ad for a brand and product. They showed another group a much-more-creative ad for the same brand and product. Then afterwards they asked both groups questions unrelated to the ad, but about their perceptions of the company that owned the brand. They asked them questions like ‘do you think this is a smart company?’ and ‘do you think this company generally makes high-quality products?’ The results were fascinating. The people who’d been exposed to the more creative ad gave much higher ratings. The researchers concluded that, while consumers don’t necessarily know anything much about advertising, they intuitively understand that it takes more effort and talent to produce more creative advertising. Then when they think about the company, they presume that if the company applies that much effort and talent to their advertising, they probably also apply that much effort and talent to everything else in their business. Like the quality of their product. And the reverse is also true – if companies don’t put much effort and talent into their advertising, they probably don’t put much effort or talent into anything else either.

By consistently producing very creative, very high-quality advertising for Heinz, Rethink are continually topping up the world’s perceptions that Heinz ketchup is a very high-quality product.

Every marketer and agency working on a mature brand should be thinking about how to be more Heinz.

At the end of the Lions week I gave my re-jigged presentation to the client in question. It was one of my favourite sessions of the week. When we talked about Heinz, they excitedly told me ‘we work with Rethink too!’ – which I imagine is a pretty good first step toward their creating the same success that Heinz is enjoying.

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About James Hurman

James is an advertising effectiveness expert from New Zealand. He’s the programme director of the Master of Advertising Effectiveness, in partnership with WARC. He’s also the author of effectiveness books The Case for Creativity and Future Demand, and the author of major effectiveness studies The Effectiveness Code and The B2B Effectiveness Code. He’s a co-founder of brand tracking SAAS martech start-up Tracksuit, and the founding partner at New Zealand innovation studio Previously Unavailable. James spent his advertising career as a strategic planner, and was named the world’s #1 planning director in 2013.

About Eff Bomb

Eff Bomb is a WARC column about the world’s most effective advertising campaigns. Each issue, James Hurman takes apart a recent effectiveness award winner and shows how it put the principles of effectiveness together to create significant brand and business growth.