March 25, 2013
Having sold his “gourmet” popcorn concept to Hunt-Wesson Foods, Orville Clarence Redenbacher believed he had created the freshest and most satisfying snack experience to come from a kernel of corn. Unfortunately for Orville and Hunt-Wesson, few were swayed by the idea of a popcorn delicacy costing twice as much as other brands. Despite attempts to impress shop owners with the snack’s fluffier qualities, none could foresee it becoming a popular selling item, simply refusing to carry the product as a result. Typically signifying the end of the line for most brands, Hunt-Wesson instead chose to rely on the power and influence of public relations in resurrecting this seemingly dead horse. What transpired became perhaps one of the best examples of turnaround profits in the marketing industry.
Capitalizing on the quirky yet lovable qualities of Redenbacher (a horn-rimmed glasses and bow tie-wearing farmer), Hunt-Wesson’s PR agency organized press parties around the country with the initial goal of simply earning the gourmet popcorn treat a presence on retail shelves. The agency introduced industry VIPs and media contacts from television, radio and print to Orville, who along with his tasty popcorn and country charm had little trouble in winning their acceptance. Even better, those in attendance absolutely loved Orville’s gourmet popcorn, understanding that in this case, higher price did indeed equal higher quality.
The subsequent outpour of positive coverage was tremendous; the agency’s efforts were further vindicated by the almost instant and widespread influence on public opinion. The few stores that carried the product quickly sold out, and those that did not carry it soon wished they did. “Further evidence in the direct correlation between the effect of the publicity and the strength of our business is indicated by the fact that where we had the greatest number of interviews and newspaper stories, our sales have been strongest,” said a company spokesman. Not yet satisfied, the PR team’s creativity continued to deliver and outperform the greatest of expectations. Thanks to ideas such as “pop art” contests and the use of an enormous popcorn-shaped hot air balloon at festivals, Orville’s popcorn soon became the nation’s leading popcorn brand, with Orville himself rising to the status of a cultural icon. Through such actions, Hunt-Wesson came to appreciate public relations as a profession that earned Orville’s Gourmet Popping Corn a culturally profound relationship with consumers, something that advertising alone could never have accomplished.