Danone launched Activia, the probiotic yogurt that claims to support gut health, in the United States in 2006. The following year, Curtis became the brand’s spokesperson. The ad campaign – touting Activia’s role in keeping consumers “regular” – generated some ridicule, but also boosted sales.
The brand has since transitioned from Curtis, tapping into other spokespersons over the years, and tweaking the way it promotes its products.
Today, Activia’s marketing campaigns are a long way from what they were a decade ago. A combination of new advertising and evolving consumer trends have helped Activia shed its image as a spoofable digestive aid and instead place it in the trendy world of wellness and gut health.
So far, the strategy seems to be working. The brand’s US sales grew from $472 million in 2019 to $506 million in 2021, according to the company. Activia could surpass Light + Fit to become Danone’s number one yogurt brand in the US this year.
But Activia has to be careful not to scare away old customers who first picked up the product because they were dealing with Curtis and her digestive issues.
“It’s a very delicate step,” said Pedro Silveira, Danone North America Yogurt President. “We don’t want to alienate” [our core customers]’, he said. “But at the same time we have to recruit new ones.”
“Not all probiotics are created equal,” said Miguel Freitas, VP of health and science at Danone. “Experts have suggested that most probiotics have strain-specific mechanisms of action linked to several benefits.”
On its website, Activia says its yogurt “can help reduce the frequency of minor digestive discomforts” such as “bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and rumbling” when eaten twice a day for a few weeks and combined with a healthy lifestyle. and balanced diet.
With Curtis as its spokesperson, Danone distilled that information into a simple message: If you want to keep your bowel movements on track, eat Activia. In commercials, Curtis explained that eating Activia helped her stay regular. Sometimes she was joined by other women who also complained of digestive problems.
No one spoke outright about bowel movements, but the implication was clear.
It may seem like the whole thing was a big flop. But in fact sales increased. “At that particular moment, that campaign was very successful,” Silveira said.
Danone didn’t see the parodies of his campaign as a bad thing, Silveira said, noting that it’s possible to “take advantage” of such attention and use it to “start a positive conversation”.
A few years ago, “we saw an opportunity to rejuvenate the brand,” said Silveira, describing it as an evolution rather than a rejection of that original Curtis campaign concept. Danone tested the new commercials to make sure they don’t alienate consumers, Silveira added. The brand now points to the renewed campaign as a growth engine.
“You’re selling to what people want to be, not necessarily what they are,” says Bob Samples, an executive-in-residence at Western Michigan University, where he teaches students about marketing food and consumer goods. The lifestyle in the commercials could be ambitious for older consumers, he said. “If I’m marketing this to millennials, I’ll probably hit the baby boomers.”
The quest for gut health
As Danone evolved its marketing campaigns, more consumers turned to probiotics and pursued the so-called gut health.
In a 2021 report, research firm Mintel said that when asked what benefit would encourage them to try more yogurt, about 34% of respondents indicated gut health.
Interest in probiotics really took off during the pandemic, said Claire Lancaster, senior strategist on the food and beverage team at WGSN, a trend forecasting company.
“We saw huge spikes in the conversation around [gut health] during the onset of the pandemic,” she said. “It’s picked up steam ever since.”
Online Calling Younger Consumers “Specific” [probiotic] strains they like to take,” Lancaster noted. “It’s gotten pretty trendy to be hyper-aware.”
Samples suggested that younger consumers view probiotics as some sort of recovery aid, even though that may not be the case. “The mindset of a lot of young people is that if I eat enough yogurt, I can have a bunch of fries,” Samples said.
In addition, yogurt sales have increased in general, mainly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Yogurt sales in the US rose from $9 billion in 2019 to $9.3 billion in 2021, according to research firm Euromonitor.
Activia is also taking other approaches to entice consumers. An example: drinkable versions of Activia, sold in bottles, that: let consumers drink the product on the go. In its report, Mintel said the “yogurt drinks segment will drive post-pandemic growth”.
Between the new ads, the new varieties and the gut health trend, Activia now looks very different from today’s customers. Silveira believes younger Activia consumers “were not exposed to the Jamie Lee Curtis campaign”, and will not associate the messages in her commercials with the product.
Monsters agreed that consumers generally have short memories for things like marketing, but said they’ll remember a couple of things.
“I think everyone will remember Jamie running the commercials, but probably not what the message was… except a lot of people were making fun of it [for being] the yogurt that made you poop.”