When last we saw our hero, he was fresh from victory over Quake, voted out of existence in a late 1970s sweepstakes by Quisp-hungry consumers.
Then fans lost interest, and Chicago-based Quaker Oats Co.’s Quisp clung to shelves in a few kitschy stores — never going out of production, but hanging around like those plaid bell-bottoms in the back of the closet.
Fast-forward to 2001. The little alien gets his first new ad in decades, but he’s still absent from the airwaves. This campaign, The Quisp Comes Alive Tour, runs on-pack and online. Illustrations on boxes start the story (titled “Pun is What You Make It” or “The Ice Have It”), then sends fans to quisp.com to see the ending in videostream animation. Like the original Quisp ads, this one is rife with puns as the alien and his sidekick, Quunchy, battle a maniacal meteor. Quaker hired cartoonist John Kricfalusi, creator of Ren & Stimpy and a fan of Quisp creator Jay Ward, to do the cereal serial.
“We’re the first truly Internet cereal,” says brand manager Pat Culligan.
Quaker’s first inkling of opportunity came on eBay, where Quisp memorabilia was doing a brisk business. When enterprising auctioneers started getting $20 a box, “We thought, ‘Duh, maybe there’s an opportunity for us online,’” Culligan laughs.
Quisp.com was averaging 30,000 hits per week — more than quaker-oats.com. When the ad broke in late February with heavy p.r. support, weekly site hits doubled and now average 50,000. FCB, Chicago, handles the site, which also sells T-shirts and watches for $20 each.
Boxes still aren’t easy to find, but that only adds to the cachet. Only six grocers carry Quisp: Farmer Jack, Woodman’s, Kohl’s, Cub Foods, Albertson’s, and Topps. This year, Quaker began opportunistic guerrilla displays across the country; the marketer brings in a five-foot pallet display and leaves it up only until product sells out.
“It’s not just about Quisp, it’s about the quest for Quisp,” Culligan explains. “It turns up in unexpected places. That’s the ‘wow’ factor.”
It’s also a great way to stretch the budget, with zero distribution cost.
Some grocers, like Farmer Jack, request the display. Others buy the sales reps’ pitch that it’s a fun gimmick with a retro hook that plays well with the 30- to 45-year-old set.
How big will Quisp get? Depends on consumers. “We just want to let it build and go forward,” Culligan says.
After all, the best kind of branding is sometimes home-groan.