If the New Coke fiasco should have taught MBAs and marketing majors anything, it's that consumers don't just relinquish their sentimental favorite brands easily.
Cracker Jack has been building equity since it was introduced at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. It's been a staple of Take Me Out to the Ballgame since 1908. Whenever some yahoo tries to pull it out of a baseball stadium in favor of a knockoff, as the New York Yankees' director of stadium hospitality did in 2004, the response is often so face-meltingly vitriolic that its return becomes inevitable.Despite that fervor and fans' continued complaints about the degeneration of toys from tin whistles to little scraps of paper and the nearly complete disappearance of peanuts, Cracker Jack owner Frito-Lay continues to mess with the brand and poke the bear. In the latest round of a game the PepsiCo (PEP - Get Report) marketing team likely refers to as "Shut Up, Old Man" when nobody's listening, Frito-Lay decided to go '90s on Cracker Jack this year and make it all sorts of extreme. In a new line rebranded as (we're not kidding) "Cracker Jack'D," Frito-Lay has coated its peanut and popcorn mix with flavors such as "Spicy Pizzeria," "Cocoa Java" and "Salted Caramel." The marketeers reason that millennials aren't hitting the Cracker Jack in huge numbers because it "isn't relevant to them" and they "want more intense flavors and a wider variety of textures." Keep in mind, they're talking about the same generation that's embraced Pabst Blue Ribbon and helped revive vinyl records. The company swears it's keeping the original around and might even throw in extra peanuts and mobile-app prizes if baby boomers behave themselves. But even Frito-Lay's recent figures suggest this is going to turn Cracker Jack into a sticky mess for the company. Frito-Lay's profits grew 1% last year, to $3.6 billion, but much of that came from old standards such as Doritos. Also, isn't Frito-Lay's parent company the same group that gave America real-sugar Pepsi in throwback cans and taco Doritos in retro bags? If the changing face of Cracker Jack doesn't scare off loyal customers, the added heart-jolting caffeine that The Center For Science in the Public Interest found in the new "Jack'd" flavors just might.
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