Why do you buy ketchup? That’s not a trick question (and if you’re thinking, “I don’t buy ketchup,” please go with this anyhow).

I ask the question because I discovered a great ad campaign recently — for Heinz Ketchup — that gets it right.

The campaign slogan: “Celebrating 150 Years of Clean Plates.”

The ads take various forms. A print ad is an overhead photograph of dozens of plates, empty of food, smears of ketchup on each, campaign slogan and Heinz bottles below.

A television ad rapidly cycles through overhead views of people eating meals. In each clip you see the diner’s plate and their hands. The first few clips show diners putting ketchup on the plates. The later clips show diners dipping the last bite of food in some ketchup and clearing their plate. A jaunty song plays in the background with the repeated lyric: “I like it.” As the ad ends, the campaign slogan appears in bold capital letters on the screen.

That’s a great ad because it cleverly and concisely answers the question “Why do you buy ketchup?” And it answers the question with a story to which people can relate.

Most of us have had a plate of something in front of us that didn’t seem so appealing — until we added the condiment. Then we cleaned the plate.
It might have been a dry slab of meat loaf. Maybe some dry scrambled eggs. Maybe it was some broccoli.

I know, some of you may think all of this is kind of lowbrow. No worries. The ad isn’t targeting you.

Sure, Heinz could have run ads that said, “Our ketchup tastes good” or something like that. In an advertisement from the 1970s, one of its ads proclaimed, “No other ketchup tastes like Heinz.”

That ad is OK, but it doesn’t tell a story. It doesn’t evoke a memory. It doesn’t remind me of the times I soldiered through Mom’s (in)famous liver and onions by smothering it in oceans of ketchup.

I figured that with 150 years of advertising under its belt, Heinz has told some good stories over the years. So I searched for old ads and found some beauties.

My favorite: A Saturday Evening Post ad from 1933.

The headline: “How to Please a Husband”

The illustration: A handsome smiling man pouring some Heinz ketchup on some unseen food.

The ad copy begins: “That husband of yours isn’t unreasonable. You’ll find him perfectly satisfied — even delighted — with simple, inexpensive foods, provided only that they are prepared in tasty, appetizing ways. That’s why thoughtful housewives are never without a bottle of rich, zestful Heinz Tomato Ketchup. A dash or so adds marvelous savor to pot roasts, stews and hashes…” And on goes the story.

Sure, that’s ad copy from another age. The ad may make you cringe — unless you buy into the old chestnut that “a woman’s place is in the kitchen.”

But if you’re interested in good marketing and strong storytelling, Heinz is dishing it out.

Tom Ruwitch is the president and founder of MarketVolt, an interactive marketing firm. For more business-building marketing resources by Tom Ruwitch, go to MarketVolt.com/resources.

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