Talk about brand alignment. When Russell Stover came upon an actual wedding between the Russell and Stover families taking place in Barnstead, NH, it was too good an opportunity to pass up. The confectionery brand, known for its boxes of chocolate gifted during holidays and special occasions, decided to capitalize on the union by working with agency partner 160over90 to provide Russell Stover-themed attire, wedding favors, chocolates and a custom cake for the couple. It announced the wedding on social media with digital invitations and shared photos after the event took place. We spoke with Russell Stover’s VP of Marketing, Kim Yates, about the brand’s involvement in the socially-distanced wedding and how new marketing strategies have come to the forefront during COVID-19.
Chief Marketer: The union of Jessica Russell and Rich Stover is pretty on brand. How did you discover this opportunity?
Kim Yates: They actually came to us. Cassandra Russell, the bride’s sister, came to a member of our team who sent me the email back in February. It was right around Valentine’s Day, and I said, what a perfect thing: people who love Russell Stover candy, an occasion that we celebrate a lot, and then thinking about celebrating another special occasion. They found us, but we were happy to know their story.
CM: Once you learned about it, how did you transform it into a marketing program?
KY: Cassandra was just happy to tell us the story. Her sister and her future husband have been true fans of the Russel Stover brand their whole lives. They actually had a photo with one of our giant boxes of Russell Stover candy from the previous holiday season. You don’t often hear of a Russell Stover wedding. We’re a chocolate brand and we stand for happiness. We have a whole campaign about “making happy” and we are committed to making life a bit sweeter every day. So, we thought, how wonderful to be part of this wedding story.
CM: How did the brand participate in the wedding?
KY: We tried to do things that were on brand, but we also didn’t want to disrupt the flow of the wedding. The nice thing is that it was an outdoor setting and it was in the fall. The color scheme worked with our color scheme as a brand. We have copper, marble and chocolate brown. We provided custom boxes of chocolates with commemorative champagne flutes. For the wedding party we had bow ties and pocket squares and socks for the men. We had robes for the bridesmaids as they were getting ready and pendant charms for their floral bouquets. For their guests, we had custom Mason jars as a take home gift. And, of course, Russell Stover chocolates. The biggest thing, though, was that we worked with a local bakery in the area to make a custom cake for the couple. The top of the cake resembled our box of chocolates and was surrounded by pieces of Russell Stover chocolate and then filled with some of the couple’s favorite flavors, from coconut to pecan delight. We are thrilled to have that be a centerpiece and something that everybody could enjoy.
CM: This is a program that works for our socially-distanced world right now. Overall, how are you approaching marketing during COVID-19?
KY: It’s been interesting. We started this conversation well before COVID was underway. Then, we wondered if this wedding would take place and how it would work. In the end, it was a small, fairly intimate outdoor wedding. They were socially distanced, so the wedding proceeded. But we didn’t have a crew of staff, which would be typical. We handled the photography through their own photographer and the PR activation from a remote standpoint. Like everyone else, we’re working completely remotely. We’ve moved more business to ecommerce. More people are buying remotely. We’re contemplating things like online tasting experiences, so people can be guided through tasting our chocolates remotely. We’re thinking about the holidays and about how people will be shopping, how they will be gifting, and making sure that we’re included in digital gift guides. We play a big role in Valentine’s Day. We are creators of the heart box of chocolates. Actually, men are front and center. It’s men buying for their wives and guys buying for girlfriends. So, we’ve thought about some car drive-up situations where you can drive through and get your heart box of chocolates. COVID has changed everything in terms of how we interact with our consumers and how consumers are shopping.
CM: What are the strategic marketing goals for this specific program?
KY: Russell Stover is a 98-year-old brand. We’ve been a household name for years and years. Many people would fondly reflect on grandparents, aunts and uncles and parents having Russell Stover in their homes. We’re focused on making Russell Stover as strong of a brand for the next hundred years as it’s been for the past 100 years. That means making this brand equally relevant with today’s generation—millennials, Gen X, Gen Z—as it has been with the Boomer generation and before. So, the goal of the program was to celebrate what it is that we stand for: making life a little bit sweeter every day. This was a way for us to demonstrate who we are as a brand and how we show up.
CM: How did you share the wedding with consumers?
KY: We announced the wedding via a save the date on our social media channels, and this week we’ve been sharing the story with consumers so that they can see the photos, the favors and the special cake. As do many brands, we have loyal followers on Facebook and Instagram that are true fans of the brand.
CM: What are the biggest challenges to marketing during this time?
KY: Marketing has changed—and buying has changed. We had some pop-up shops planned for last spring and we didn’t execute those because people were not out in malls or out in places shopping in person. People are still consuming media. They’re still buying products, but they’re doing it in very different ways. I heard something early on in the days of COVID: a multiple-choice question that read, “which have been the biggest drivers of moving your company into the digital era? Your chief executive officer, your chief IT officer or COVID?” Of course, the answer is COVID. Not that many CEOs and CIOs haven’t been pushing for digital marketing and digital consumption for years, but this has been a catalyst and has pushed people to a new place. People who were never experiencing something as easy as online grocery shopping made that switch early on in the quarantine time back in April.
So, we are focused on making sure that we show up in all the places where people are buying chocolate online, whether that’s making sure that our website is where it needs to be, thinking about pure players like Amazon and Instacart, but also our relationships with walmart.com, target.com, Kroger, Walgreens—the list goes on and on. Then, in terms of getting messages to them, the nice thing is that people are at home a lot. We probably have more of a captive TV audience than we’ve had in the past. So, we’re taking advantage of that in terms of mass media, but working sharper and smarter about paid search and about digital and social so that we can get to people online where they’re consuming media and where they’re buying the product.