Food and Beverage Marketing

The Evolution of Advertising in the Food and Beverage Industry

Summer is here, meaning millions of people are cracking open ice-cold beverages and tossing some hot dogs on the grill. As they prepare for fun in the sun, they make thousands of subconscious decisions on which food and beverage products to take with them. Not coincidentally, brands often step up their advertising during this time in order to capture this seasonally high consumption.

The Three Main Phases

In her book The Food Industry: Lifeline of America, Lillian E. Edds summarizes the evolution of food and beverage advertising into three tidy categories: fragmentation, unification and segmentation.

Fragmentation refers to a period before 1880 where food supplies were almost exclusively local. Packaged food and beverage goods often could not survive long-term transport or storage, so most brands, no matter how large, were limited to a small regional market. Advertising was done through one-off painted murals in visible public spaces or through locally-circulating publications like gazettes.

Like most other industries, the packaged food and beverage business reached new heights of sophistication following industrial advances. Products like canned foods and bottled beverages could be mass manufactured then distributed safely and efficiently across new transport lines. This ability to share the same products without regard for region defines the beginning of the unification period.

Major brands like Heinz, Pillsbury, and Campbell Soup rose to prominence during this period, backing national distribution efforts with well-funded national advertising campaigns that increased the visibility of their products over that of local competitors. Brand iconography like the calligraphic Morton Salt’s umbrella girl were born around this time.

The segmentation period marked the realization that competing products had to differentiate themselves by appealing to different market segments with different values. This period began around 1950 with the rise of the large Madison Avenue agencies as depicted in Mad Men, fueled by advertising’s ensuing “creative revolution.”

Food and Beverage Advertising Today

Segmentation still continues to define how brands reach out to their respective customers. With so many more options and so much more access to information than at any other point in history, consumers now have more means than ever to make informed decisions about the products they buy and even the ways they buy.

Modern companies’ branding efforts focus on convincing these demographics that their products can provide the most value. Some are highlighting the responsible sourcing of raw materials to emphasize the sustainability of their products. Others are trying to appeal to the modern consumer’s desire to branch out and try new things.

Nearly all of them will be trying to reach their customers in new ways targeting these desires through content posted on social media and sites like Buzzfeed. After all, the need to create emotional connections and explain the far-reaching value products offer takes longer than a conventional 12-30 second ad space will allow.

While attempting all of these techniques, brands will be keeping a close eye on the data customers generate. Digital advertising produces far more data points than other forms of communication, and responses to traditional ads are being closely measured and compiled. All of this data informs branding decisions, making new campaigns leaner, more effective than ever before. Information has even ushered in a new era of micro-segmentation where every user gets a unique collection of ads tailored to their relevant interests. Smart marketers are harnessing this information to create one-of-a-kind campaigns.

As high-volume, low-cost goods with nearly universal appeal, packaged foods and beverages have helped encourage the evolution of advertisement perhaps more than any other consumer product. The need for consumers to buy the same good, new goods and buy those more often in order to sustain revenue meant that advertising was a necessary and integral part of the food and beverage industry’s overall business plan. As the marketplace evolves, data-based decisioning is driving the future of advertising for not just foods and beverages, but the modern industry at large.

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