Hooah Energy Bars and the Troops

A ‘Marketing Conceit’

Regular readers know that transparency is my bête noire. Directly or indirectly, I must have 10 posts that address the issue. But it bears repeating; when it comes to cause-related marketing, don’t try to snooker the customer.

I saw this ad for Hooah Energy Bars in All You magazine, a women’s magazine published for Wal-Mart by Time Inc., and it has some transparency problems.

The ad and the website say, “Every HOOAH bar helps fund research that improves soldier safety, diet, and quality of life.” Promotional material for its liquid companion, HOOAH Soldier Fuel energy drink use similar language.

Supporting the troops sounds great doesn’t it? Especially to people like me with a military background (I was in the Army National Guard).

But that’s not exactly what’s happening here. The formulas for the bar and the drink were licensed by the US Department of Defense to D’Andrea Brothers, LLC, which produces and markets them under the HOOAH name.

In other words, the licensing fees paid by D’Andrea Brothers, LLC apparently go to the Department of Defense labs that originally developed the HOOAH bar and drink and thereby [somehow] benefits soldiers, sailors and Marines.

Let me hasten to add that D’Andrea Brothers, LLC is treading old and familiar ground here.

Every Canadian probably grows up hearing this story but not many others know it. In 1930 three pediatricians at the Hospital for Sick Kids in Toronto invented Pablum, the first vitamin and mineral-enriched pre-cooked baby food. The hospital, the second oldest children’s hospital in North America, licensed Pablum and received royalties for a number of years, which it funneled into research efforts.

But it’s hard to see how benefits will devolve to servicemen and women individually or collectively when you buy HOOAH bars or drinks. Specificity would help. One of the strengths of the breast cancer stamp from the US Postal Service is that you know the money goes to the National Institutes of Health to search for treatments and cures.

What we get from HOOAH are vague generalities about improving diet, safety and quality of life for servicemen and women. This is the weakness of licensing deals as cause-related marketing; because no ‘extra’ money changes hands it muddles the appeal.

I have one other complaint. The packaging and the ad have more visual clichés than a rap video. My foreign readers will probably bemoan all the flag waving in the HOOAH ad. My response is that it plays to its audience. Nonetheless, I would certainly vote for HOOAH to dial it back a little.

Wall Street Journal reporter Amy Chozick called HOOAH’s approach a “marketing conceit,” and that’s well put. Conceit means fanciful. If HOOAH would have relied more on transparency and specificity and less on conceit, this would be a better campaign.

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