Now do you believe me that this whole "co-branding" food trend has dragged on long enough?
By: Jimbo X
In marketing speak, there's this thing called "co-branding." Basically, it's whenever two brands come together to simultaneously hype one hybrid product. Now, in the fast food/junk food industry, we've been seeing this going on for years, and perhaps no product not called "Pop-Tarts" has milked the gimmick as hard as Nabisco's Oreos.
Go ahead, type "Oreos" in the little search box at the top of the page and you'll be barraged by a seemingly endless array of fucked up flavored twist-top sandwich cookies. Cotton candy-flavored Oreos. Red velvet cake-flavored Oreos. Lemon-flavored Oreos. Cookie dough-flavored Oreos. Rice Krispies-flavored Oreos. For fuck's sake, they even made watermelon-flavored Oreos, and somehow, the NAACP didn't stage any protests. And that's not even counting the Oreos even my LTO-obsessed ass never got around to trying, like the root-beer flavored ones or the ones that purportedly tasted like Swedish Fish. Aye, one of the greatest regrets of my adulthood is never getting to try those limited time only cookies 'n' creme Oreos at Kroger ... what were, effectively, special edition Oreos-flavored Oreos.
Granted (and this is gloriously evident by my excessive coverage of said products), I don't really have a conceptual problem with these "variation" Oreos. I wholeheartedly believe in the free market and whoring out novelty items, but one of the things that really peeves me to no end are those aforementioned "co-branded" products. You know the kinda' stuff I'm talking about here. Crush-flavored Pop-Tarts. Burger King Fried Cheetos. Taco Bell selling Cap'n Crunch Cinnabon Delights (which is actually a rare - if not foreboding) example of a tri-branded co-product.) These are just the laziest things in the world, the junk food equivalent of all those shitty "mash-up" albums that used to be popular about 10 years ago. No, taking two semi-divergent things and slamming them headlong into a Franken-snack-food isn't the same thing as building an original product permutation from the ground up (and if any of you wanna' give me any shit about the Hegelian dialectic, I'll fist fight you anytime and anywhere.) Here, the intrinsic appeal of the LTO isn't the product's core flavor, but simply the fact that it's a pre-existing brand that kinda sorta tastes like an entirely different pre-existing brand. Instead of taste taking center-stage, the entire product hook revolves around the texture and the fact you're consuming one product in a different form than your are generally accustom to. I mean, does anybody out there really want to know what it's like to chew Dr. Pepper instead of drink it? Well, apparently, corporate America thinks you do, and as long as people keep buying A&W Root Beer Twizzlers and cheeseburgers from Carl's Jr. that taste like Budweiser, you're pretty much signing 'em a permission slip telling them it's A-OK with you if they keep shoveling this half-baked crap on store shelves and fast food menus.
Which brings us to perhaps the most shameless co-branded foodstuff ever -- motherfuckin' PEEPS-flavored Oreos.
Now folks, you really have to think long and hard about the Peeps track record. After all, this is a company that actually tried to sell consumers marshmallow chicken flavored milk a few years back, so it's pretty much a given that these people will sell anything with the Peeps logo on it as long as they think it's kooky enough to ensnare consumers who apparently only eat the weirdest limited-time-only shit at the grocery store (meaning, effectively, me.) In that, I have more than a few questions, perhaps the most pertinent one being is the Peeps brand flavor really all that recognizable to the average American consumer? I mean, all marshmallow products more or less taste the exact same in terms of mouthfeel and general texture, so really, the only thing you can do to set yourself apart from the herd is add more sugar or spruce the shit up with artificial flavoring. And since Peeps is a brand so dependent on flavor variations to begin with, does the company even have a flagship original flavor to promote or pride itself on? To me, those baby chicks they sell every Easter have never really tasted like anything more than standard marshmallows, albeit with a speckling of crystallized sugar on the outside to give it the illusion of some kind of aesthetic glimmer. And since that's the big selling point for these co-branded Oreos, I can't help but wonder if the folks at Peeps even really understood how to market their own damn product here.
I guess you really don't need me to run down the general idea of what Oreos are, do I? Understandably, Nabisco opted for the alternate uni "golden vanilla" exterior shell, which I suppose makes a good deal of sense ... that is, until you suddenly realize that by eschewing the regular black twist top cookie hue, you found yourself robbed of eating what would've been Bret Hart-stylized Oreos.
The interior creme is a bright purplish-pink hue, which for some reason, makes me think of this one girl I dated my sophomore year in college who wore a blinding neon lipstick shade practically the same color. You can detect a little bit of shimmery sugar sprinkles here and there, but by and large, as soon as you crack these sumbitches open, you're pretty much staring at Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in edible paste form. Well, that, or a wad of already chewed up bubblegum. Needless to say ... they prolly could've improved the basic aesthetics on this one.
Of course, the only thing that really matters is how the product tastes, and these Peeps-influenced Oreos taste like ... well, I'm not really sure. It's usually pretty hard to replicate the overall texture of marshmallow in artificial form, but somehow, someway, Nabisco managed to make this creme at least feel a little more airy and pillowy than your average Oreos creme. Or maybe, my mind was playing tricks on me and I was just imagining all that gustatory bounciness - I wouldn't be surprised, either way.
But does the damn thing taste like a Peep? Well, I'm not really sure I'd describe this thing's flavor as, uh, Peep-ish. I guess it has a similar flavor, but really, the Peeps just taste like sugary fluff as is so it's kinda hard to nail down the intricacies and nuances of whatever its core taste is supposed to be. Your tongue does pick up the light tingle of one of those heavily touted sugar crystals, though, which is a nice experiential touch. But yeah, at the end of the day, these things just taste like slightly fluffier, slightly sugarier and 100 percent pinker Oreos, and that's about it.
I'm not sure how much money Peeps or Oreos are going to make off this stuff (but boy, would I love to know what their profit-sharing set-up is like), but I really wonder if the promotional and cross-licensing costs come anywhere close to meeting the earned revenue of the LTO cookies. Maybe that's why we're seeing such a proliferation of co-and-tri-branded foodstuffs these days - if the fusion product loses money, I guess it's a smaller overall financial loss for each brand then it would have been if they lost money on a proprietary, from-the-ground-up, in-house solo product launch.
It might seem like a ludicrous jihad to take up, but I can't help but ponder exactly where this conglomerated brand fad is going to take us over the next few years. Sure, it's all fairly innocuous now, with our goofy Peeps-flavored Oreos and whatnot, but how long before we're seeing companies forming symbiotic branding plans with the intent of deterring start-up products from ever entering the grocery store supply chain? That's one of the things nobody really thinks about when it comes to co-branded foods. For every needless, superfluous merger-food, that means less shelf space for anything else. So in a way, perhaps this whole co-branding explosion is actually a concentrated industrial effort by the titans of junk food and fast food to muscle smaller brands (and especially store-brand) items from menus and the aluminum storage racks? Sure, the consumer only sees a kooky Frankenfood when he or she gawps in wide-eyed disbelief at toaster pastries that taste like soft drinks or ice cream tubs glutted with diced up candy bar chunks from a competing brand, but for the forgers of said co-branded items, the "novelty" items serve more of a strategic purpose as "gap-fillers" - i.e., all-too-expendable products that can be switched in and out quickly simply to maintain maximum occupancy of finite retail space.
I don't know, maybe I'm reading way, way too much into this. That said, when multi-billion dollar industries and ferocious market competitors decide to "team up" for anything, that nonetheless should give you pause - if not outright concern - as an American consumer. Today, it's consolidation of Peeps and Oreos, tomorrow, it's consolidation of Nabisco and Just Born. Today, it's Cap'n Crunch Taco Bell balls, tomorrow, it's Yum Brands! merging with Quaker Oats (which, believe it or not, is actually owned by Pepsi.) Today it's Dunkin' Donuts flavored Pop-Tarts, tomorrow it's Kellogg's flat out purchasing Dunkin' Brands for a couple of billion smackers. And with the big huge mega super duper companies getting even bigger, that means the entry point for upstart brands is going to get even smaller and smaller, with the Goliath fast food/junk food brands gobbling up even more of the low culture comestible pie.
Now, you may take a gander at something like the Peeps-branded Oreos and simply call it silly synergy. But the way I see it, it very well could be a premonition of wide-scale brand acquisitions and corporate mergers on the horizon. This is how the world of Rollerball came about, I suppose: not with the sudden and startling consolidation of corporate interests, but with those eye-catching "novelty" co-brands that distracted us from the mass coadunation of our corporate overlords going on right under our noses ...