Heinz reveals the dark side of ketchup in new ad campaign

Heinz is on a roll with its advertising recently. Shortly after announcing an inspired vodka pasta sauce collaboration with Absolut, it's now produced a surprisingly gritty ad campaign that shows restaurants attempting to fool their customers through 'ketchup fraud'.

The campaign makes visible something that many people will suspect happens fairly often, and not only with ketchup. In an almost documentary style, it shows restaurants filling up Heinz's recognisable bottle with ketchup from other, presumably cheaper, brands. The copy reads, 'Even when it isn't Heinz, it has to be Heinz' (this could be one for our pick of the best print adverts).

A Heinz advert

Caught in the act (Image credit: Heinz)

As shared by Aaron Starkman, COO of the creative agency Rethink, on LinkedIn, the campaign feels refreshingly different. It combines almost voyeuristic photography with sharp, concise copy that plays on Heinz's existing tagline of "it has to be Heinz".

The new Heinz ads also turn the issue of counterfeiting on its head. Faking brand products is an issue in many sectors, whether it's counterfeit clothes or false packaging, but it's not something that brands tend to shout about in their advertising. Here Heinz switches things around, using the fact that people try to pass off cheaper ketchups as its own to show that ketchup isn't a commodity: Heinz is the brand the public wants.

A Heinz advert

Heinz reveals the dark reality of restaurant kitchens? (Image credit: Heinz)

The beauty of the campaign is that it comes from a real-world observation. In fact, Heinz says it was inspired by a post on Snapchat that caught real restaurant staff in the act of refilling a Heinz bottle. The pieces will appear on billboards in New York and in print ads, but Heinz is also seeking to out the culprits too, inviting people to tag offending restaurants on Instagram.

A Heinz advert

But are people noticing the difference? (Image credit: Heinz)

Heinz marketing director Megan Lang said that through social listening, the company discovered this was "a true and widespread behavior." She adds: "We thought, what better way to express our core brand belief that ‘it has to be Heinz’ than to simply amplify an existing consumer behavior in a supportive and funny way?”

It's novel, but it's also risky. The gritty approach feels a little out of character for an established iconic brand. And if Heinz is suggesting this is normal practice, are diners noticing? Because if not, it could suggest the difference is only in the bottle rather than the taste. It feels almost like the campaign needs a follow-up in which customers immediately recognise the ketchup they're given isn't Heinz.

Doubts aside, it's certainly a refreshing campaign that makes us stop and look. It's very different from the recent Heinz Absolut vodka pasta sauce posters but equally striking. 

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Joseph Foley

Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He writes news and features, updates buying guides and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to accessories and office supplies. A writer and translator, he also works as a project manager at London and Buenos Aires-based design, production and branding agency Hermana Creatives, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors who specialise in producing photography, video content, graphic design and collaterals for the hospitality sector. He enjoys photography, particularly nature photography, wellness and he dances Argentine tango.