A group of 50 producers hopes the 'Eat 'Em Like Junk Food' effort starting next week will double the $1 billion market in two or three years.
The goal is to get people to think of baby carrots as a brand they can get excited about - not just a plain, old vegetable. A website, www.babycarrots.com, features metal music and deep male voices chanting "Baby. Carrots. Extreme." On social networking site Twitter, the campaign's account suggests people eat them "like there's no tomorrow (maybe there won't be...)"
"This campaign is about turning baby carrots into a brand," said Jeff Dunn, CEO of Bolthouse Farms, the nation's top baby carrot producer with 50 percent of the market, and the most to gain if the market grows. "We think ultimately long-term here we're going to turn it into a very vital brand in the mind of consumers."
The plan begins in Cincinnati and Syracuse, N.Y., and will take at least a year to go national.
But carrot eaters around the country will get a taste of baby carrots' attempt at attitude with Scarrots next month. The Halloween version of baby carrots will come in spooky packaging and have glow-in-the-dark temporary tattoos, ideal for giving out to trick-or-treaters, Dunn said.
The marketing campaign by Crispin Porter + Bogusky, known for its edgy advertising of Burger King and Old Navy, will cost about $25 million.
Television ads depict futuristic scientists studying crunch, a woman lusting after carrots and carrot sports featuring a young man who launches off a snowy mountain top in a grocery cart and catches in his mouth a carrot shot by a gun below. There are also billboards with messages like "Our crunch can beat up your crunch" and carrot vending machines in schools.
Stores will carry new packaging in crinkly, festive bags reminiscent of chip bags with designs that mimic the ads. There's a bright green one with a hip red bunny wearing sunglasses, and dark, futuristic packaging with bright orange lines coming out of a carrot.
The carrot group and its agency studied other campaigns - such as the "Drink Milk" effort" - and decided to push further with baby carrots, beyond marketing the benefits of the vegetables.
"You didn't need to talk about any of the health benefits. Everyone knows carrots are good for you," said Tiffany Rolfe, vice president and group creative director at Crispin, Porter + Bogusky. "Our goal was to separate it from being a vegetable as much as possible, to create a new category for carrots."
Sales of baby carrots - which are, in fact, not babies at all but rather small, peeled carrot shapes cut from larger ones - have fallen in the mid-single digits in the past two years as people spend less in the down economy, Dunn said. That includes buying bigger carrots and cutting them up themselves to save money.
Baby carrots were introduced in the mid- to late 1980s, created for their convenience of being an easy snack. Sales grew quickly in the first 10 to 15 years, but the growth tapered off, Dunn said.
For now the campaign will roll out gradually and focus on marketing. But Dunn, a former president and chief operating officer of Coca-Cola North America, said new variations could be developed, including baby carrots with ranch flavoring.
"How high is up?" he said of the market's potential. "That's the real question, what's possible here? We put it out there, and we'll learn and evolve."