Damn, Skippy! Leveraging Segmentation and Positioning Best Practices to Build a Stronger Brand – by Lisa Proctor
When I started thinking about what I was going to focus on in my analysis of how Hormel and BBDO identified and segmented the target market for the Skippy peanut butter brand, I kept coming back to the two primary reasons Beane & Ennis (1987) identified for any market segmentation effort:
The prescience of this reasoning is striking to me, of course, because of how spot-on the descriptions are for understanding the positioning strategy for the Skippy brand. But what is perhaps even more interesting to me is that though Beane & Ennis were defining market segmentation almost 25 years ago, long before the media landscape was forever reshaped by the Internet, mobile technologies, and big data, the best practices they identify are every bit as relevant and insightful today.
Based on Shultz’s (2014) description, Hormel and BBDO had both of Beane & Ennis’s goals in mind in their development of strategy for the “relaunch” of the Skippy brand. Given the decline of the peanut butter market as a whole (Schultz 2014), it was crucial that the first Skippy campaign in five years reflect a deep understanding of the peanut butter consumer—and the Skippy consumer specifically—so that efforts to reposition the brand as a viable, “fun” alternative to market Goliath Jif would achieve measurable success.
At the center of the efforts to revitalize the Skippy brand is the new “Skippy Yippee!” ad. In the spot, a factory worker carefully evaluates peanuts to separate the “fun” ones (each set of which demonstrates a different personality type) from the “not-so-fun” ones. It doesn’t require a huge leap in logic to figure out where the fun ones go. At the end of the ad, we learn that the not-so-fun peanuts end up at a decidedly not-fun office party.
Segmentation Bases. The “Skippy Yippee!” ad serves as an excellent lens through which we can explore how the brand’s stakeholders segmented its target market. Likewise, applying the bases described by Beane & Ennis (1987) can help us more fully understand what the traits and characteristics of these segments might be. Demographics always play a key role in market segmentation, and evidence of their consideration is clear in the Skippy ad. In addition, the ad also provides clues to the psychographic analyses that were applied.
The “Skippy Yippee!” ad appears to aim for a broad target market demographically. The ad is not gender-specific, which is evidenced by the variety of voices used for the animated peanuts. The genders of the actors in the spot would also indicate this broader market view by eschewing stereotypical correlations between gender and job, placing the young woman in the factory role and two men at the office party. The concept behind the ad centers around the expression “yippy skippy,” which Schultz (2014) defines, through an entry from the Urban Dictionary, as being a way to sarcastically show a lack of enthusiasm about a given task. Skippy attempts to appropriate and redefine the idiom by switching the word order, and expressing it as an enthusiastic endorsement for the product. To me, this concept reflects how Skippy marketers have determined the age of its target consumers. Hawkins & Mothersbaugh (2013) tell us that two age cohorts—Gen Yers and Millennials—respond positively to the use of appropriate humor, as well as to portrayals of diversity in general, and modern female gender roles in particular. The turn on the “yippy skippy” idiomatic phrase, together with the modern gender portrayals in and whimsical tone of the ad, indicates an attempt to appeal primarily to these consumers.
There is an element of segmentation around social stratification that should be considered, too. At first blush, the Skippy ad appears to be speaking to people across social strata, but a closer look indicates a clear perception of the brand’s target consumer being a member of the middle, working, or upper-lower class. Each of these groups is concerned with quality and the perceptions of others, as well as trending toward higher levels of brand loyalty (Hawkins & Mothersbaugh, 2013). For many people in these socioeconomic groups, peanut butter is a staple in their pantries. The Skippy ad presumes this notion, allowing it to instead focus on building the all-important brand loyalty in these key segments.
In addition to its demographic segmentation, the Skippy ad also reveals aspects of psychographic (or lifestyle) segmentation. Essentially, a psychographic analysis attempts “to incorporate part of the inner person into the understanding of the market” (Beane & Ennis, 1987). In other words, Skippy marketers want to understand the attitudes, values, and activities and interests of their target market. One important attitude that the Skippy marketing team was likely to be interested in is how consumers view peanut butter in terms of nutritional value. From its beginnings in 1933 through the early 2000s, the Skippy brand “focused on its wholesome, healthful nature” (Gidman, 2009). Ads from the 1980s featuring Mickey Mouse Club icon Annette Funicello message the health benefits of the product, particularly its protein content.
Today’s market landscape is different, however. According to a 2012 National Peanut Board study, “ percent of consumers believe that peanut butter is a good source of protein” (“Consumer,” 2013). This data point is important for two primary reasons: (1) it tells Skippy marketers that consumers are still invested in the health benefits of its product; and (2) it also tells them that these days consumers ascribe these benefits to the product category as a whole, not to the Skippy brand in particular. Thus, even though sales of Skippy’s “all natural” product are growing, significantly outpacing the market as a whole, which actually experienced a 4 percent decline in the 52 weeks after the Skippy brand was acquired by Hormel (Schultz, 2014), the fact that consumer attitudes about the healthfulness of peanut butter are not brand-specific means that this characteristic is no longer a viable key differentiator, and as a result the brand is not likely to realize any measurable benefit from targeting consumers holding these attitudes.
However, Skippy can increase its market traction by psychographically analyzing Gen Yers and Millennials, which we’ve already identified as key age cohorts for the brand. Regarding Millennials in particular, Stein (2013) explains, “[M]illennials are nice. They have none of that David Letterman irony and Gen X ennui.” Unrelenting positivity is a hallmark attitude of both market segments. They believe that that virtually every aspect of their lives should be fun, that, at work, they should be able to “beg off projects they find boring” (Stein, 2013) and that their work environments should come with games and a fully stocked kitchen. These attitudes have been cultivated in these age groups since they were toddlers. And these generations’ shared attitudes about fun are clearly where Skippy marketers have decided to focus their marketing strategy. You like fun? Skippy is fun! Only the happiest peanuts make the (literal) cut to being in Skippy. Bored? Whiny? Curmudgeonly? Off you go to the sad, colorless office gathering. The voiceovers used for each peanut evaluated speak to these personality traits/attitudes. The laughing, singing peanuts go on to become Skippy peanut butter. The ones who complain (“They never listen…”) or are otherwise negative (“Hashtag, boring!”)—which, by the way, is subtextually associated with age through the voiceovers—don’t have a chance.
Malcolm Gladwell and Horizontal Segmentation. In the directions accompanying the YouTube link to Gladwell’s TED Talk, Dr. Tuten told us that though Gladwell’s focus is on product segmentation, we should readily see the how his concepts apply to market segmentation, too. I for one found his insights about horizontal segmentation especially fascinating. I think this is at least in part because when I first started working in marketing and advertising, I had the hardest time wrapping my head around what “horizontal” and “vertical” meant in the marketing context. So, now, anytime I hear these terms, my interest is automatically piqued.
Gladwell’s interpretation of horizontal segmentation, which he gleaned from one of his heroes, Howard Moskowitz, a pioneer in product refinement for the food industry, does indeed have relevance to the Skippy brand as a whole and even to the “Skippy Yippee!” ad in particular. Central to the idea of the horizontal segmentation concept is the notion that segmentation shouldn’t be hierarchical. It isn’t concerned with what people aspire to. Instead, effective segmentation embraces diversity—any segment that is clearly identified is not inherently more valuable or “better” than any other (Gladwell, TED, 2007). From a market targeting perspective, I interpret this to mean that brands should not segment their target markets based on what their aspirations are for the product—in other words, who the brand wants to buy its products. Rather, the focus should be on who the target consumer actually is—what does that person like? What is important to them? How do they like to spend their time? We should shape the message to the consumer, not try to reshape the consumer to fit the message.
The lesson about horizontal segmentation that we can take from Gladwell’s talk is, “Embracing diversity is the surer way to true happiness” (TED, 2007). In the case of Skippy, it is clear that the brand’s marketing strategy recognizes the broad appeal of the product category within which the Skippy brand operates, but doesn’t stop there. Though the brand is attempting to own “fun” in this product category, the Skippy ad also demonstrates the brand’s understanding of the unique qualities and characteristics of the Skippy consumer through the tone, pacing, and accent of the peanut characters’ voices, and even in the shape and placement of the simple, line-drawn faces of each character.
Positioning. Ries (2005) describes positioning as the unique stance a brand occupies (or should occupy) in the consumer’s mind. Thomas (2013) adds, “The key, [Trout and Ries] argued, was to…cut through all the confusion caused by brand proliferation and advertising clutter.” Keep in mind, they made this argument in 1972. Thomas (2013) further suggests that “positioning is, and should be, intimately connected to the concept of ‘target market.’”
For me, the locus of where positioning and target market intersect is founded in what Beane & Ennis (1987) refer to as “image segmentation.” This concept “involves consumer’s self-image or self-concept and its relationship to the image of the product” (Beane & Ennis, 1987). Thus, to figure out how what position we want our product to occupy in the minds of our target consumers, we first have to understand how our target consumers perceive themselves.
How does Skippy position (or actually re-position) its brand? The evolution of consumer perceptions from associating quality and nutrition value with brands to associating those attributes with the entire product category has necessitated that Skippy re-envision its long-time positioning of the brand. As Beane & Ennis (1987) point out, “With so many brands on the market…targeted positionings often become blurred or overlap.” Simply put, consumers are no longer likely to see Skippy as being unique or superior from its competitors in terms of quality and/or healthfulness. Add to this that conventional wisdom holds that in any battle between emotion and rationality, emotion is favored to win, and we arrive at Skippy’s new positioning statement. Three words: Skippy. Is. Fun. Not just that fun is a great way to describe Skippy, but that Skippy and fun are one and the same. It’s simple—just like peanut butter.
What makes this an effective positioning statement is how closely and clearly it aligns with the self-images of Skippy’s target market, alluded to earlier. The goal is to “’link the psychological construct of an individual’s self-concept with the symbolic value of the goods purchased in the marketplace…Goods are symbols which communicate something about the individual to his [or her] ‘significant references’” (Grubb & Grathwohl, 1967, as cited in Beane & Ennis, 1987). Further, the “experiential” nature of the Skippy brand position focuses on “primary process thinking…oriented toward hedonic response” that elicits feelings of “fun, amusement, fantasy, arousal, sensory stimulation, and enjoyment” (Holbrook & Hirschman, 1982). Peanut butter is a practical, economical product that can be consumed in a wide variety of ways. But who wants to think about that? The Skippy consumer likes to have fun—and Skippy is fun.
Semiotic analysis. I’ve already talked a good bit about the signs and symbols built into the “Skippy Yippee!” ad in earlier sections of this post, so I won’t belabor those points here. However, I do think it’s important to point out the powerful symbolic role food plays in our culture, and how the Skippy brand leverages that perception to reposition its brand. Food (and by that I really do mean all food) is always, and in all ways, semiotic. It represents life, health, love, comfort, pain, anxiety—every emotion attributable to the human experience is represented in our relationship with, and preparation and consumption of food. I find this aspect of the “Skippy Yippee!” concept and ad particularly compelling. One could easily argue that for many Americans, the PB&J sandwich has replaced the apple pie as the food that consistently taps into what Americans would identify as uniquely American in our collective self-concept. Think about it: “Children eat an average of 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by the time they graduate from high school” (Faw, 2013). If we accept that the age cohort for the Skippy ad is roughly 18 to 35 (again, encompassing key portions of both the Gen Y and Millennial demographic segments), then we can also reason that the individuals that make up Skippy’s target market have spent—at the very least—half their lives making the meaning that in turn influences how Skippy seeks to position its brand in the minds of these consumers.
Frankly, it blows my mind. Man, I love marketing.
Beane, T. P. & Ennis, D. M. (1987). Market Segmentation: A Review. European Journal of Marketing, 21:5, 20-42.
“Consumer Research Shows Everyday Peanut Consumption Has Doubled Since 2001.” (2013). National Peanut Board. Retrieved from http://www.nationalpeanutboard.org
Faw, L. (2013). Peanut Butter Wars: #2 Skippy Determined to Take Down #1 Jif. The Motley Fool. Retrieved from http://www.fool.com
Gidman, J. (2009). Peanut Butter Brands Go Nuts. Brand Channel. Retrieved from http://www.brandchannel.com
Gladwell, M. (Speaker), & TED (Producer). (2007). Choice, Happiness, and Spaghetti Sauce. [TED Talk/YouTube Video]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com
Hawkins, D. I. & Mothersbaugh, D. L. (2013). Consumer Behavior: Building Marketing Strategy. 12th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill
Holbrook, M. B. & Hirschman, E. C. (1982). The Experiential Aspects of Consumption: Consumer Fantasies, Feelings, and Fun. Journal of Consumer Research, 9, 132-140.
Ries, A. (2005). The Battle Over Positioning Still Rages to This Day. Advertising Age. Retrieved from http://www.adage.com
Schultz, E. J. (2014). Skippy Returns to TV in Comeback Bid. Advertising Age. Retrieved from http://www.adage.com
Stein, J. (2013). Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation. Time. Retrieved from http://www.time.com
Thomas, J. W. (2013). Positioning. Decision Analyst. Retrieved from http://www.decisionanalyst.com
- “To look for new product opportunities or areas which may be receptive to current product repositioning;”
- “To create improved advertising messages by gaining a better understanding of one’s customers.”