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Vidalia Onion Committee's Shrek movie campaign a bona fide hit

by Chip Carter | June 29, 2010
Wendy Brannen suspected she might have a hit on her hands with the Vidalia onion industry's latest promotional effort: An unlikely pairing of sweet Georgia onions and one of Hollywood’s most iconic figures, the animated ogre Shrek.

The campaign -- "Ogres and Onions" -- rolled out in May along with the premiere of the fourth Shrek movie, "Shrek Forever After," and it has been an unqualified smash.

Shrek-logoed Vidalia onions are flying off store shelves; consumers are responding to contests and a Shrek-Vidalia onion web site ( by the thousands; and the campaign has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, where it was featured on the front page June 28.

Later that same day, the campaign was the subject of a two-minute feature that closed out the ABC Evening News.

The campaign has also been featured on CNN and made headlines in the Los Angeles Times and in 400 other publications in 23 states since The Produce News first reported on the promotion earlier this year.

"This is a day of celebration for the Vidalia industry -- and indeed the produce industry," said Ms. Brannen, who is executive director of the Vidalia Onion Committee in Vidalia, GA. "We are drawing positive national attention to our healthy product and encouraging sales with America's youth for years to come."

Highlights from the WSJ article included background on the “Ogres & Onions” campaign, the committee's strategy for working Vidalia onions into kids’ diets and information on what makes Vidalias different from other onions (the ph balance of the local soil).

Ms. Brannen’s source at the Journal said that testimonials from parents and retailers combined with Vidalia onion sales data proving the effectiveness of the program pushed the story onto the front page of America's most influential financial publication.

With the slogan "Shrek Forever After, Vidalias Forever Sweet," the summer- long campaign features point-of-purchase sales materials such as box or display toppers, floor stands, recipe tear-off pads and shelf cards, all with a kid-friendly Shrek theme.

The campaign also features Shrek’s image on bagged Vidalia onions and kid- friendly onion recipes based on Shrek characters. It will be featured on 30 million milk cartons in major metropolitan areas across America. And there is a web site where kids can check out Shrek and Vidalia onion games and other entertainment. Furthermore, as of June 29 more than 32,000 people had entered the on-line Vidalia “Hunt 'n Peel” Shrek trivia contest.

The Shrek campaign was a year in the making. When Atlanta-based marketer Steve Langston of Langston Communications approached Ms. Brannen with a raft of new ideas for marketing Vidalia onions last year, she did not see anything that hit a hot button. She gave Mr. Langston an assignment: Find a theme that worked for kids, preferably involving an animated character.

Mr. Langston went back to the drawing board, saw the timeline for the upcoming Shrek movie, realized it dovetailed perfectly with the Vidalia onion season, and a campaign was born.

When Donkey, Princess Fiona and the world’s most lovable ogre himself, Shrek, star of three previous films and countless related videogames, theme park rides and other paraphernalia that have racked up billions in revenues over the last decade, reappeared in May, Vidalia onions were right there alongside them.

In fact, Ms. Brannen was invited to attend the movie's Hollywood world premiere at the Gibson Amphitheater at Universal Studios May 19.

"It's so hard to believe this has come full circle from this man out of Atlanta a year ago saying, 'Here are some ideas' to this," Ms. Brannen said. "I gave Steve that challenge and that quest, to correlate it with our season and pursue it. And a year later here we are on the front page of The Wall Street Journal."

Even though the market is already solid, Ms. Brannen said that the Journal confirmed that Vidalia onions have gotten a significant boost from the promotion, alongside other partners like Dreamworks Studios, General Mills and Bank of America.

"Everybody likes Shrek -- he appeals to children and to parents," Ms. Brannen said. "He’s one of the most popular animated characters out there. In the movie, Shrek says ogres are like onions because they have layers -- they set this whole thing up for us. Now we’re using that appeal to talk about Vidalia onions. The real fun of all this is everyone is so curious about what we'll do next."