June 29, 2010 -- Shrek, the famous Ogre from the hugely popular animated films, isn't just crashing movie screens this summer, he's making a big presence in the aisles of grocery stores, too.
First reported in the Wall Street Journal, Vidalia onion growers say they are selling more onions than they ever have before thanks to a secret weapon, Shrek. Sales are up 50 percent according to the Vidalia Onion Committee, a group of a 99 growers of the sweet onion grown in Georgia.
Onions are usually a hard product to market, especially to children. They smell funny, they make you cry and they are the natural born enemy of many vegetable-phobic kids.
"If you're a banana or a strawberry or a blueberry that kids actually eat readily, it's not so hard to market to them," Wendy Brannen, Executive Director of the Vidalia Onion Committee, said. "But if you're an onion, what do you do?"
'Ogres Are Like Onions'
The group of onion growers found their answer in a scene from the first of the four "Shrek" films. In the scene, Shrek describes what an ogre is to his baffled friend, Donkey.
"Onions have layers, ogres have layers," Shrek said. "Ogres are like onions. End of Story."
The Vidalia Onion Committee approached DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc, the company that has made billions from the Shrek franchise, about using the ogre to market their product. They gave DreamWorks about $300,000 worth of publicity and marketing. DreamWorks gave them the right to use Shrek on placards, bags and on their Web site.
"I wanted to tie our onions to something that kids would relate to but parents would actually still purchase," Brannen said.
Shrek Forever After, Vidalias Forever Sweet
The national marketing campaign, called Shrek Forever After, Vidalias Forever Sweet, launched this spring coinciding with the onion harvest and the premier of the fourth "Shrek" film. In grocery store aisles, shoppers can see giant Shrek placards with bags of Vidalia onions emblazoned with the green guy's face asking, "What do ogres and onions have in common?" The Vidalia Onion Web site boasts kid-friendly, Shrek-centric recipes using those sweet Georgia onions.
The campaign has kids saying yes to onions. At one grocery store in New York, a little girl named Maude said she didn't like onions. Asked about onions after hearing that Shrek likes them, her face lit up and she nodded in excitement.
There is some precedent. Popeye helped boost spinach sales more than 30 percent in the 1930s.
Element of Discovery
Larry Woodward, president and CEO of Graham Stanley Advertising, said that marketing campaigns that use popular characters to promote unpopular products have an element of discovery that kids find irresistible.
"They see this thing they don't really know very much about and all of a sudden, they want it," Woodward said. "They want it because Shrek's involved in it.
Vidalia onions aren't the only product getting a boost from movie stars this summer. The U.S. Post Office has been using commercials featuring the characters from "Toy Story 3." The "Twilight" movie series has become a promotional tool for Volvo, the type of car driven by vampire heartthrob Edward Cullen.
Of course, there are limits to all advertising.
At a grocery store in New York, ABC News asked an older man, "What if I told you that Shrek likes cauliflower?"
The man's response: "I'm not sure who Shrek is."