A Born-Again Brand

An exclusive look inside the Mike and Ike redesign

Published in Convenience Store Products

By  Steve Dwyer, CSP Reporter

The new Mike and Ike packaging

In 2012, an unorthodox marketing campaign known as “The Split” opened the door for Mike and Ike to expand its relevance with young consumers. This year, a modern package redesign might be what knocks the door down for the 72-year-old Just Born brand.

“Back in 2010, consumer focus groups told us Mike and Ike was an ‘old school’ brand with packaging they considered dated and non-contemporary,” Donald Houston, senior marketing manager for Mike and Ike/Just Born, based in Bethlehem, Pa., tells Convenience Store Products.

“We’re a family-owned company that’s very protective of our brands. We appreciate our heritage, and consider Mike and Ike a wholesome, all-family candy,” Houston continues. “But the packaging needed a futuristic look. We also wanted a redesign effort to run parallel with the product reformulation we were in the midst of.”

Undoubtedly, there’s a lot going on with Mike and Ike these days, and sales figures reflect that activity. SymphonyIRI Group data shows Mike and Ike increased brand sales 7% in the 52 weeks ending Dec. 30, 2012, ahead of the 6.5% growth seen for the entire confection category. The flagship “Original Fruits” variety in the familiar green box outpaced other Mike and Ike SKUs, rising 9%— thanks in part to benefits reaped from The Split campaign.

Split and Reunited
In early 2012, the Mike and Ike brand team took the wraps off The Split, a risky but well-calculated effort done to generate excitement and shake cobwebs off the brand.

The Split centered on a narrative of Mike and Ike announcing they were going “their separate ways” to “pursue their own interests in art and music.” Packaging featured a black scribble over Mike or Ike in the logo, accompanied by a message from each character that explained their departure.

The unorthodox marketing initiative set the stage for the package redesign—and, incidentally, with the new package comes the heralded news that Mike and Ike have reunited.

Houston informally calls the initiative the “Trifecta,” because it’s predicated upon a “reformulated, rebranded and repositioned” candy offer. The initiative took about three years from ideation to rollout and was done in conjunction with Hackettstown, N.J.-based brand consulting firm BrandFirst, who made the logo and packaging creative that anchored the effort.

In discussing the brand refresh, Amy Happ, creative director for BrandFirst, explains the team formulated different “design families” accented by futuristic imagery. “We wanted to be playful and interchanged a lot of elements of the package. Candy is such a trend-setting category, so we drew inspiration from brand designs we saw in other product categories,” she tells Convenience Store Products.

Think energy drinks, candy, gum and CSD packages, and you have the inspiration wellspring that delivered Mike and Ike, circa 2013. The goal was to resonate with a younger (13- to 17-year-old) target audience that saw the package as outdated. “We tried to emphasize a minimalist approach, with an emphasis on sleek,” says Happ. “A very streamlined approach with bold graphics similar to what you see with cosmetics: beautiful saturation of color."

Adds Tracy Kiker, account manager for BrandFirst: “We started with evolutionary strategies and then made them revolutionary. We had to ask ourselves if Mike and Ike was ready for a revolutionary approach, and testing we did confirmed it.

“It revitalizes the brand with an edgier feel that resonates with teens,” she adds.

Good Things, New Packages
In the actual redesign, consumers will notice the word “and” is tilted on a vertical plane between Mike and Ike. The green background sports a shadowy dimension that captures a sense of motion and energy. The free-flowing graphics retain the brand’s fun and lively personality.

Happ explains that black was boldly introduced to the package as organic shapes that hold the “bean” product and fruit illustrations. “Both the beans and fruits have been redesigned as truer representations of the actual product. The beans have taken on a slick, polished style and the custom-illustrated fruits have been designed with a photo-realistic approach to represent every detail for increased appetite appeal,” says Kiker.

Houston credits a newly adopted expanded gamut printing process that enabled “colors to pop. The printing process provides all the colors, complexity and nuances we had sought.”

To obtain critical feedback through the process—from The Split to the redesign—the team tapped into the power of social media, which Houston calls “a very unfiltered process effective for additional and immediate feedback. Having it reinforced the passion that teems within our audience.”

Mike and Ike’s website is also in the midst of a makeover to make it more informative and interactive by integrating social media functionality with Twitter, Facebook and Instagram photo sharing.

This whole consolidated effort would be incomplete without some additional buzz: a special limited-edition Strawberry Reunion variety to celebrate Mike and Ike back in the saddle.

As the revamped Mike and Ike package hits retail shelves this month, consumers will also discover a reformulated candy inside the new box. “In 2010, our R&D team also started to blend individual flavors with real fruit juice, so the result is a product with a more juicy and refreshing taste,” Houston says.

Houston and BrandFirst team members said everything now lines up well for future incremental growth. The effort was fraught with risks, says Houston: “Conventional wisdom says the last thing you ever want to do is put black scribble over part of your logo. But people got it, the PR machine went into overdrive, and we’re excited to take the wraps off the next phase—the redesign, the improved product and The Return of Mike and Ike Campaign.”