Campaign Trail is our analysis of some of the best and worst new creative efforts from the marketing world. View past columns in the archives here.
Philadelphia Cream Cheese takes a page from "The Office" and "National Treasure" in a true crime-style marketing campaign ahead of Thanksgiving. A 90-second mockumentary debuted this week, starring a fictional conspiracy theorist group, the Cheesecakers Society, as they hunt down clues in old documents and real historical paintings to prove that pilgrims ate cheesecake at the first Thanksgiving.
The tongue-in-cheek spot titled "Wait, is that a cheesecake?" and its shorter 15-second cut were produced by agency Gut and aim to make room for cheesecake in millennial consumers' minds — and on their plates — as they ready menus for the holiday next week, Philadelphia's Associate Director of Marketing Megan Magnuson told Marketing Dive.
"The Thanksgiving dessert table is really owned by the pie," she said. "And now, it's our mission to spread the truth and reinstate cheesecake to its rightful place on the Thanksgiving table."
Creating cinematic similarities
The clip jumps between vertical and horizontal shots to drive home the documentary feel and create suspense as the Cheesecakers Society tours museums, interviews historians and contacts the Pumpkin Pie and Pecan Pie societies to piece together what Philadelphia describes as their "involvement in the cover-up of this historical event." The discovery of a cheesecake recipe and painting from 1621 confirms the faux society's hypothesis, shown through a crafty camera shot that highlights the city of Philadelphia on a map and references the cream cheese brand. As of press time, the full-length spot had raked in 3.1 million views.
According to Gut's executive creative directors Ricardo Casal and Juan Javier Peña Plaza, the key creative challenge for this campaign was to find a fresh way to insert the Kraft Heinz brand into the Thanksgiving conversation. Their team started by examining real paintings of Karen Rinaldo, Jean Gerome Ferris and Jennie Augusta Brownscombe and by studying popular true crime documentaries to mimic their structure and language.
"We came up with this concept through researching real historical paintings of the first Thanksgiving. When someone spotted what looked like a cheesecake, we just keep digging and digging. And the more we looked, the more cheesecake we saw," the executives told Marketing Dive via email.
"The Thanksgiving dessert table is really owned by the pie. And now, it's our mission to spread the truth and reinstate cheesecake to its rightful place on the Thanksgiving table."
Associate director of marketing, Philadelphia
Developing the campaign centered around a suspenseful mockumentary was a strategic choice that let Philadelphia tap into a style of entertainment popular with many consumers.
"We know that the true crime genre has been wildly popular in recent years, mainly because people have a desire to dig into these heavy investigations and stories to find out all the facts and draw their own conclusions," they said in the email.
Large-format digital billboards in New York and Philadelphia, print ads and social content round out the Kraft Heinz brand's campaign.
Other oddball efforts
This year's Thanksgiving creative follows a number of tongue-in-cheek efforts by the cream cheese marketer. In September, its "Bagel That" spot and novelty device that punches a hole into a waffle, pancake, hamburger bun or slice of pizza positioned Philadelphia's core product as a versatile spread that pairs with items other than the classic bagel. The tagline, "If it looks like a bagel, put Philly on it," and campaign were also developed with agency Gut.
The lighthearted creative strategy positions Philadelphia as a more relatable and fun brand working to spice up the typically stale marketing around dairy products.
"We like to call it 'true crime documentary' or 'investigative journalism,' and we chose it because it was the only way to uncover the truth behind this mysterious conspiracy," the Gut folks said. "There have been many secrets exposed through similar documentaries on various streaming platforms, so it was the perfect vehicle to restore cheesecakes as the rightful Thanksgiving dessert."