National Agri-Marketing Association
NAMA Website
Upcoming Events
Agri-Marketing Conf
Best of NAMA 2020

The Washington Apple Commission’s advertising campaign starring a scooter-riding super-hero is helping boost apple consumption in targeted cities.

The award-winning campaign launched in February 1999. The star is "Apple Guy," who saves the day by presenting the state’s famous fruit to frazzled moms and others in a series of television and radio spots.

"Advertising’s role within the apple industry’s marketing program is to boost consumer demand for Washington apples," says Tom Swearingen, advertising director of the Washington Apple Commission in Wenatchee, Wash.

Created in conjunction with McCann-Erickson of Seattle, the campaign aims to remind consumers why apples are enjoyable. The spots highlight the eating experience, dramatizing the crunchiness and juiciness of Washington Apples. They also reinforce how apples fit into a consumer’s busy life as a portable, energizing and tasty snack food.

Early findings from cities where the advertising campaign is running show that apple sales increased 21 percent and shipments climbed 16 percent compared to the same period last year.

"We’re gratified to see a jump between the ad and non-ad markets," Swearingen says. "This indicates that the campaign can do what it is designed to do."

Tom Swearingen Advertising director of the Washington Apple Commission in Wenatchee, Wash.

The decision to invest in a national campaign was prompted by market forces that threatened the state’s position and thrust many industry members into a state of crisis. "In response, our growers voted in 1998 to increase their per-box assessment, from 25 cents to 40 cents, to pay for expanded advertising," Swearingen says.

With the juicier budget, the commission was able to launch its first-ever, 12-month consumer advertising program.

The market forces threatening the state’s position include:

1. Increased competition: On the domestic front, other local and regional crops are increasing in size and continue to gain favor with retailers. Similarly, foreign crops have increased in size and improved in both quality and consistency while remaining significantly less expensive. In addition, many foreign growing regions now focus on new varieties, capturing the interest of consumers and retailers alike.

2. Struggling export markets: The Far East, Mexico and South America have traditionally been strong export markets for Washington Apples, accounting for 30 percent of total crop movement. However, the Asian economic crisis and trade barriers in Mexico limit marketing to these regions. Other Latin American markets are also experiencing economic problems.

3. Flat apple consumption: For decades, Washington has been synonymous with the highest-quality and best-tasting apples. But consumer perceptions on quality and key brand attributes have experienced some declines since 1990. Moreover, apple consumption in the U.S. has been flat for a generation, due in part to increased competition from other fruits and snack foods.

4. Supply increase: In 1998-99, Washington apple producers harvested a record crop - up 17 percent from the industry’s historic threshold. This is not all good news. With domestic consumption flat and foreign markets contracting, finding an outlet for the surplus crop becomes a formidable challenge.


After a long day of site seeing, a little girl thanks Apple Guy for the refreshing apple in the "Zoo" spot.
"As a first step in the process, we conducted a segmentation study to identify the audience with greatest potential for increased apple consumption," says Mary Sue Humphreys, McCann-Erickson Seattle account supervisor.

The study revealed that the traditional target of heavy users are the most loyal. Yet, these heavy users would not drive incremental growth. Instead, the commission pinpointed a group of medium and light users. These light and medium users were targeted to increase consumption. This group became known as "Stressed Moms."

"The Stressed Moms are women 35- to 54-years-old with kids," Humphreys explains. "They are in middle-class, with house-hold-incomes averaging $48,000. They are well educated, and 68 percent work full- or part-time."

Through qualitative research, the commission discovered that apples are rarely top of mind, but that Stressed Moms enjoy eating them. "When asked about eating apples, these women can speak at length about the first crisp, juicy bite to the ultimate feeling of refreshment and revitalization," Humphreys says. "In addition, apples are seen as convenient, portable, healthy and a good snack option for kids - all positive perceptions, but not ones that lead to increased consumption."


To drive consumption among Stressed Moms, McCann-Erickson helps the commission remind the target why apples are so enjoyable.
To drive consumption among Stressed Moms, McCann-Erickson helps the commission remind the target why apples are so enjoyable. "This means dramatizing the apple eating experience and placing apples into storylines that fit within the context of the target’s busy life," Humphreys says.

The result is the "Apple Guy" campaign, based on a charming, modern-day superhero. The Apple Guy comes to the rescue of those in need with the help of his one special power - Washington Apples.

The TV spots feature situations that are relevant to the target’s lifestyle while being appropriate apple-eating occasions. In an ad titled "Zoo," a father and daughter are wiped out from a long day of site seeing. Once Apple Guy receives the distress signal, he zooms to their rescue on his scooter carrying Washington Apples. "The other four spots in the campaign feature a worker-bee in an office, worn-out shoppers at the mall, two exhausted hikers and a tired family on a road trip," Humphrey’s explains.

The dialogue between Apple Guy and the recipients builds on the charming personality of the character. When Apple Guy hands the apples to the recipients, they take a big juicy bite and say, "Thanks, Apple Guy." Apple Guy then responds by saying, "No problem weary travelers" as in the Car Trip spot. Those catch phrases have really caught on with consumers as evidenced by the multitude of e-mails the commission has received.

The radio spots focus on the aftereffects of Apple Guy visits. These spots remind the target of how refreshing the apple-eating experience is. "In the radio spots, a curious reporter interviews people who have experienced a visit from Apple Guy when they were in desperate need of a Washington Apple," Humphreys says. "Characters, such as a farmer, little girl, rodeo clown and police officer, tell their personal stories about how Apple Guy and his Washington Apples saved them."

The tagline, "Washington Apples. Just the Thing." encompasses what an apple means to consumers - a perfect snack that’s good any time. It also serves to exemplify the relationship between the apple and the recipients who need to be refreshed in the advertising.

The rationale behind choosing the Apple Guy campaign was that it had the ability to be extended across other marketing efforts supported by the commission. As such, the Apple Guy campaign has been fully integrated into the following programs:

- Apple Guy’s role in the Washington Apple Commission Web site has been to greet visitors on the homepage. Additionally, an "Ask Apple Guy" page was developed to gain feedback and further build a dialogue and bond between the consumer and character.

- Sell-sheets and videos detailing the Apple Guy campaign encourage support and promotional partnerships with retailers. In addition, the Apple Guy TV and radio spots were tagged with retailers and price promotions to further these partnerships.

- Apple Guy has been integrated into the Washington Apple Commission’s racecar program. The racecar competed in the Goody’s Dash series (a division of NASCAR), and provided additional exposure throughout the Southeast.

- Apple Guy premiums are distributed in kids’ meals as part of a fast food cross-merchandising effort.

- As local marketing opportunities arise, Apple Guy appearances are coordinated. These appearances generate a sizeable buzz with both the public and the press.

- The "Search for Apple Gal" national essay contest was developed to find a woman who has similar qualities as Apple Guy: heroic, selfless, virtuous. The grand prize winner receives a spa vacation, house cleaning services, massages, personal chef and, of course, Washington apples.


Aside from increasing consumption of Washington Apples, the ads are also very likeable, according to results from an extensive consumer tracking study. The survey asks parents who are primary household grocery shoppers and have purchased apples during a two-week period what their reaction is to the spots. "According to the research results, most consumers still believe the best apples are grown in Washington," Swearingen says.

In addition, research shows that favorable impressions of Washington Apple attributes are higher in ad markets versus non-ad markets. Those surveyed also seem to understand and enjoy the "Apple Guy" commercials.

"That’s a very good sign when you’re executing a new campaign," Swearingen says. "And what that tells me is that, so far, the campaign is working very well." AM

Search News & Articles

Proudly associated with:
American Business Media Canadian Agri-Marketing Association National Agri-Marketing Association
Agricultural Relations Council National Association of Farm Broadcasters American Agricultural Editors' Association Livestock Publications Council
All content © 2021, Henderson Communications LLC. | User Agreement