#HotterPockets and #Twinkies: Millennials aren’t buying new social campaigns for old junk food

Jul 17, 2013 at 3:51 PM ET

Give millennial foodies “irreverent humor, microwaves, and the occasional mullet or handlebar mustache” and you can convince them to buy and eat almost anything.

At least that’s what the marketing teams behind the recently rebranded Hot Pockets and Twinkies believe.

The makers of the popular snacks released their new looks on Facebook and Twitter to lure millennial foodies. In doing so, they pigeonholed their target customers as cheap, easily persuaded grocery shoppers who will try anything they see trending on Twitter. But marketing to this group might not be as easy as using a hashtag.

“Social media allows for consumer-to-consumer communication, a key advantage over the traditional advertising tools,” food marketing expert Richard George, PhD, explained in a message to Vocativ. “My research has shown that a positive comment from a social media friend makes it more likely to buy a product; 76 percent of millennials agreed with this statement.”

The Hot Pockets team, a division of food manufacturing superpower Nestlé, set out to create a sexier microwaveable product. They preached about millennials’ “high food IQs,” a metric that, according to Michael Cohen, marketing fellow at the NYU Stern School of Business, is imaginary but “sounds good.” They even gave their new Hot Pocket the #HotterPocket hashtag. But the #IRRESISTIBLYHOT version was ice-cold when it launched on Tuesday. In the few hours before the highly anticipated unveiling of the new products, only a few tweeters besides the official Hot Pockets Twitter handle tweeted about the #HotterPocket. And they were all moms. Moms with mom blogs. Moms that had previously participated in an all-expenses-paid trip to a Hot Pockets factory to learn about the changes made to the snack.

Likewise, both the Hot Pockets and Twinkies marketing teams set out to establish their products as highbrow. In the #HotterPocket’s launch video, Jeff Mauro—host of Food Network’s Sandwich King and much less millennial-friendly successor to former Hot Pockets pitchman Snoop Lion—markets the new sandwich to the hungry target customers. “Get after it!” Mauro shouts with contrived excitement. The video also features an interview with Hot Pockets culinary mastermind Chef Lucien Vendôme, because sophisticated millennials apparently like fancy French food. And the Twinkies team, which has been backed by private equity groups Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos & Co. after Hostess went bankrupt, marketed the Twinkie on Facebook as an “icon,” citing the product relaunch as the “sweetest comeback in the history of ever.”  

But despite the gourmet aspirations, these new products are still unhealthy and filled with chemicals. Sure, the new Hot Pocket is made with artisanal ingredients, including “real cheese,” 100 percent Angus beef, “signature” pepperoni and hickory ham. But it still contains 300 calories and is bursting with 25 percent of the recommended daily fat intake. Similarly, the new Twinkie contains only 15 fewer calories than the original Twinkie (which was 150 calories)…but it curiously lasts 19 days longer on shelves.

It appears that marketing doughy tubes of meat sauce and vanilla cream to gluten-free, green-juice-drinking millennials might not, in fact, be a worthwhile venture. That’s because millennials are increasingly more “knowledgeable” about food, and won’t be deceived by sophisticated labels. “They’re not saying much about the nutritional profile,” Cohen says of the two campaigns. “That’s something they had done in the past to market to a different demographic. Across the market, people are looking for a higher quality product.”

And many millennials think that Hot Pockets and Twinkies simply can’t be sexed up.

While George explains that many millennials “talk skinny and still eat fat,” both marketing teams might see more success if they tailor to moms with kids. In the 24 hours since the launch, 63,000 tweets that included the hashtag #HotterPocket also included the hashtag #Family. The five most active #HotterPocket influencers on Twitter were mom bloggers with Twitter names like @MommyBKnowsBest.

Besides, millennials like chopped salads now. As The New York Times reported on Tuesday, salads are all the rage.