As Sales Sag, Kraft Tries Edgy Humor

It used to be when comedians wanted to garner attention, they'd do what they called a "blue" show, one that was for adult ears only. While that could describe just about every comedian on the brick-wall circuit today, advertisers are learning that even if they can't go completely blue, toying with its lighter shades will still bring them notice.

The latest to push the envelope in this manner is Kraft Foods (NASDAQ: KRFT  ) , which just unveiled a new marketing campaign and dedicated website designed around the phrase "Get your chef together," a play on a popular, more scatological phrase.

We saw a similar campaign launched earlier this year by Sears Holdings' (NASDAQ: SHLD  ) Kmart division, when it developed the clever "Ship my pants" commercial. I haven't been a fan of the company for many years, but I thought it struck the right note with that campaign, even if it doesn't appear to be enough to reverse the trend of declining sales. Unilever (NYSE: UL  ) has also come out with some suggestive ads for its Slim-Fast brand, including one where a woman thinks about being "the hottest MILF" in her area code.

These ads seek to garner attention by going off-color without being so racy in the (otherwise appealing) way Carl's Jr.'s restaurants has promoted its "best pair" burgers with bikini-clad models, or as controversial as General Mills (NYSE: GIS  )  by using its advertising to promote a social agenda. Recent ads have extolled support for the LGBT community and same-sex marriage.

While I've been known to talk a blue streak myself in casual conversation, the risk I see in these commercials is that they quickly lead down a slippery slope where all sense of decency is lost. Just look at the state of TV today, where banality and coarseness are viewed as "edgy" to see the truth of that. The first advertisers out often have a sense of the line that shouldn't be crossed; those that follow typically do not. While foreign media is not nearly as prudish as American tastes, as nudity and double entendres are common in their advertising, even Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper has come under fire recently for a pornographic commercial promoting its new website.

Kraft blamed insufficient advertising as the reason behind its slack quarter, in which earnings rose and guidance was raised for the year, but sales fell 1.1%, missing analyst expectations. Having spun out its Mondelez International (NASDAQ: MDLZ  )  snack-foods division, the consumer-products company has had trouble gaining traction, even as snacks become a big growth industry.

So having Kraft turn to advertising to push sales higher is no joke. Whether going edgy can help it stand out among the cacophony of ads that run every day remains to be seen, but at the end of the day, investors may still be left feeling blue.

As the debate over social issues shows, retail is undergoing a sea change, and only the companies that are the most forward-looking and capable will survive. Investors who understand the new landscape will be handsomely rewarded for their foresight. You can read about the 3 Companies Ready to Rule Retail in The Motley Fool's special report. Uncovering these top picks is free today; just click here to read more.


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