7 Things Plant-Based Brands Can Learn from Captain Vegetable [CASE STUDY]

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The plant-based movement could learn a thing or two from this classic Sesame Street “hero.”

If you’re of the older millennial generation, you probably remember a certain classic Sesame Street skit featuring an unusual superhero. He emerges, we’re told, from “his secret garden somewhere in New Jersey.” He has a theme song. He wears a costume (with a cape). And, like Superman, he has his own logo emblazoned across his chest.

He also happens to be a purple rabbit/man hybrid whose sole mission in life is to convince kids to eat crunchy vegetables for dental health. To that end, he descends on unsuspecting prospects with a carrot in one hand and a bunch of celery in the other, aiming to convert them to healthier habits.

Somehow, he succeeds.

How?

How did an unknown hero bring his healthy message to a skeptical audience who, as we’ll see, found it less than attractive? What facilitated the culture shift? And what can today’s plant-based brands learn from the approach?

carrots apples and parsley on a cutting boardThe Captain Vegetable Vision

It all starts with vision and purpose. A mission statement, if you will. Captain Vegetable’s job is all about one thing: Getting buy-in from his audience based on the assertion that crunchy vegetables like carrots and celery are good for teeth.

(Dentists confirm this, by the way. Healthy crunchy foods, including carrots and celery, stimulate saliva flow, which in turn reduces the risk of developing cavities. These foods also contain a range of vitamins and minerals that promote strong, healthy bones and teeth.)

Armed with the straightforward message that vegetables are healthier than junk food, Captain Vegetable pursues his purpose. He’s out to engage with his audience in a way that will prompt them to make a change. He has, as it were, a compelling call to action.

Solving a Consumer Perception Problem

He also has a significant hurdle to clear: His “audience” is a couple of kids who are addicted to unhealthy foods. As Captain Vegetable marches off on his mission, we’re introduced to:

  • Andy, who loves candy
  • Eddie, who loves spaghetti (the highly processed white flour variety)

Both are content to suck down gigantic plates of their favorite treats. Both declare they eat these foods “whenever [they] can.” And neither shows the slightest sign of wanting to change.

Much like the plant-based movement, Captain Vegetable finds himself taking on the daunting task of changing consumer perceptions. To get the desired buy-in, he has to make a case compelling enough to prompt a departure from deeply ingrained behaviors.

girl with a bowl of tomatoes and peppersEducational Marketing is Key

The deck is stacked against our hero in several ways:

  • Health information is abundant and often confusing, especially to people with their own preconceived notions about what’s good to eat
  • Food is both cultural and personal, and people gravitate toward foods that make them feel good or evoke happy memories
  • Eating healthy remains synonymous with bland, unappetizing and unsatisfying foods despite efforts to convey the contrary

Asking people to change the way they eat is like asking them to change their identities. Andy is all about candy. Eddie isn’t about to let anyone take away his spaghetti. To paraphrase Seth Godin, people like them eat things like this.

What chance does a purple rabbit man with wild whiskers have of changing their minds?

Surprisingly, a rather good one. Because Captain Vegetable understands educational marketing. It may, in fact, be his real superpower.

Marketing Success Starts with Messaging

Our hero presents a clear value proposition that makes it impossible to be confused about what he’s offering:

Eating crunchy vegetables is good for me.
And they’re good for you, so eat them too!
For teeth so strong your whole life long,
Eat celery and carrots by the bunch!

To back it up, he ensures he always has a “product sample” handy by marching around carrying the very veggies of which he sings praises.

And it doesn’t hurt that he offers a pretty memorable brand experience. He announces himself (“It is I, Captain Vegetable!”) and summarizes with a tagline (“Crunch, crunch, crunch!”). No kid is going to forget an encounter like that in a hurry.

The 7 Key Content Takeaways for Plant-Based Brands

Now we get into the good stuff: how your plant-based brand can capitalize on Captain Vegetable’s success.

Don’t worry; it doesn’t involve dressing up in a superhero costume (unless you want to). Instead, you need to exercise a different kind of power. Marketing power. Strategic power.

Here are a few takeaways from Captain Vegetable’s approach to get you started:

  1. Know your audience and their level of understanding. Don’t guess! Engage with them through existing channels to find out how they think.
  2. Develop a message that meets them where they are. Avoid leading with complex concepts or data if they’re not ready.
  3. Let your product sell itself. When you’re offering something that tastes good and helps your target customers meet their plant-based diet goals, you don’t need fancy words or marketing tricks. (Pandemic note: Sending samples to influencers in your niche in exchange for a review and/or write-up is a decent alternative until store sampling resumes.)
  4. Have clear calls-to-action built into your marketing. Tell your audience what they need to do to benefit from the content you share — be it an educational video, an inspirational blog post or an email offer.
  5. Be memorable. This looks different for every brand, but once you nail down what resonates with your audience, keep being that.
  6. Encourage community by making your brand easy to engage with. Give your audience more to do than just try your product; invite them to be part of what you’re doing in the plant-based space.

Oh, and there’s one important thing you shouldn’t do — that’s #7. It’s the one area where Captain Vegetable’s approach could have fallen apart were he not on Sesame Street, where the air is sweet and things generally work out for the best.

Don’t assume your customer will immediately agree with your message, buy your product and become a lifelong fan the first time they encounter your brand. In real life, marketing takes time. You need to be persistent, sure, but you also need to be patient.

True success in marketing comes from a combination of smart strategy, compelling messaging and consistent execution. Taken together, these actions build bonds of trust between your plant-based brand and your customers — and that’s when you become a superhero!

Think about how you’re marketing your brand now. Are you connecting with your audience in a way that’s encouraging them to try what you’re offering? Is your combination of “carrot and celery” appealing? Share your top tips (or struggles) in the comments!

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