Business information written specifically for newspaper advertising departments

The New York Times Asks Ad Agency to Revamp Broccoli’s Image With Creative Campaign

For too long, newspaper classifieds have settled for the same old, same old, even though the same old hasn’t worked for a long time, just as it hadn’t worked for broccoli and other healthy foods. The key in changing the tides was creativity.

The New York Times’ Michael Moss asked Victors & Spoils, a Boulder, Colo., creative advertising agency, to create a hypothetical campaign that would overhaul the image of broccoli in the U.S. Of course, the challenge presented the advertising firm — which has worked with the likes of Coca-Cola and General Mills — with several obstacles. First and foremost, agencies like Victors & Spoils don’t typically take on campaigns for fresh produce, nor are they asked to. If such healthy foods are seeking advertising, it usually comes in the form of a government-funded campaign to promote healthy lifestyles across the country, which hasn’t been wildly successful in the past. Simply put, healthy foods like broccoli struggle to compete with their high-sugar, high-fat, high-everything junk food rivals. As a result, campaigns promoting produce and other healthy foods have been reduced to highlighting their nutritional benefits, which — again — haven’t worked in the past. The Victors & Spoils team was quick to decide that wasn’t the best path for broccoli’s future.

Victors & Spoils created a highly creative campaign for Moss’ challenge, and we’re here to share their approach so you can incorporate that same level of creativity and enthusiasm in your clients’ campaigns. Of course, if Victors & Spoils were to actually create this campaign, they would be given a budget of approximately a couple million dollars. Nevertheless, there are some underlying universal lessons that your own department can embrace.

Research Public Opinion

When presented with the challenge to reform broccoli’s image, Victors & Spoils first went out to learn what broccoli’s standing image with the public was. They found that the vegetable is riddled with negative perceptions: It’s bland; easily overcooked; doused in another, more palatable food to mask its taste. One of those surveyed by Victors & Spoils responded with an experience most of us are familiar with: He was “told not to leave the table until I eat it.”

Things may have looked grim, but Victors & Spoils’ research on public opinion for broccoli only fueled their campaign. When approaching your own clients’ advertising, get a sense for what your community thinks about your client’s business, its products and services and use your findings to inform their advertising.

Research the Facts

Victors & Spoils then accumulated the hard data: The benefits of eating fresh produce are overwhelming, but hardly anyone in the U.S. is eating the right amounts. According to their research, only 5 percent of Americans younger than 50 and only 10 to 25 percent older than 50 are eating enough vegetables.

However, those who eat the recommended amounts of vegetables and fruit lowered their risks of heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. But as we mentioned earlier, inundating consumers with the health benefits hasn’t worked. Their junk food rivals use campaigns that enlist colorful, animated and exciting methods. Victors & Spoils asked why broccoli couldn’t do the same.

Get Creative

“Maybe there’s something cool in not being cool,” Ari Levi, one of Victors & Spoils’ associate creative directors, suggested. That idea would come to inspire their hypothetical campaign.

First though, Victors & Spoils would have to go through a long list of other ideas. As Moss described: “Finally, they began to riff on possible avenues to explore in the campaign. What can we do with the color green? Is there some packaging we could make? Is there a ritual with broccoli? If not, can we create one?”

The list went on, but ultimately, it came back to their research on the facts. In a sales report, Victors & Spoils found that broccoli was ranked No. 20 amongst vegetables. Surprisingly, kale was actually doing worse at No. 47, even though kale seems to be experiencing resurgence, championed by foodies everywhere. As Moss points out, kale has become a sort of hipster food of choice.

“Let’s pick a fight with kale,” Creative Director Chris Cima suggested.

Victors & Spoils went from there, creating the “Broccoli Commission of America” and mock ups of huge ads that declared, “What came first, kale or the bandwagon?” and “Broccoli now 43 percent less pretentious than kale. Broccoli vs. kale. Google it.”

So we did. When you pin two foods against each other on Google, it returns with a table comparing nutritional facts. In comparison, broccoli was coming up roses — so to speak.


Of course, these are the same nutritional facts that don’t really sell produce to Americans, but the inventive message in their campaign was compelling. Now the nutritional benefits were just icing on the… broccoli.


For too long, newspaper classifieds have settled for the same old, same old, even though the same old hasn’t worked for a long time, just as it hadn’t worked for broccoli and other healthy foods. The key in changing the tides was creativity. Don’t be afraid to change your techniques to come up with creative and compelling advertising for your clients. The results could be transformative.