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June 2, 2013

Acai The Superfruit of Marketing

Acai The Superfruit of Marketing

Whether or not you personally believe the data surrounding the Acai berry’s claim to “superfruit” status, you have to admit, “superfruit” is a pretty good moniker. Andy Warhol, the king of turning trash into treasure, couldn’t have done better himself.

Not that the acai berry is trash (it’s more of a plant). However, it has gotten far more attention than any single exotic berry with unscientifically verified nutritional credentials really merits (and when we say “unscientifically verified,” we mean in all of its processed forms, so calm down all of you acai-ists). Why? Marketing, that’s why!

But the pendulum on the acai marketing genius has swung in both directions — you have to admit, it’s gotten a tad bit tarnished by some unscrupulous internet marketing. (“Acai Berry Diet Exposed: Miracle Diet or Scam?”) We’ll explore the rise, fall and possible second rise of the superfruit that Dr. Mehmet Oz holds dear to his heart. (The fruit itself, not the supplements.) We’ll also look into the net value of a catchy title or nickname. It’s worked for professional boxers for decades, and it works for products.

A Brief History of the Acai Craze

In the early 21st century, Ryan Black (a scrappy marketing savant), discovered a fad in Brazil for acai fruit “soup” that party goers ate before going out to the clubs for a night of heavy drinking and heavy who-knows-what-else. The skinny on the product was that it was believed to provide enough nutrients, antioxidants, etc., to mitigate whatever damage copious amounts of booze do to the system. What’s not to love?

Because the U.S. consumer tends to be a bit finicky about new flavors and textures, it stood to reason that the hook for massive acai popularity would lie in its antioxidant power, which seems to be considerable, in its natural, un-degraded form. Natural products with concentrated medical benefits are the exact sort of things that get noticed by the Oprah Winfrey machine, and it wasn’t long before acai became …

The Fruit of the Nutritional Gods

The mere mention of acai by Oprah Winfrey was enough to get American consumers to pull out their wallets and buy any acai product dangled in front of them. And it truly was a “mere mention,” since apparently all she said after she tasted it was: “It’s not bad.”

So acai was off and running! Soon acai was welcomed into the pantheon of “superfruits,” along with blueberries and raspberries, and acai publicists began its campaign of introducing acai to food and beverage products as well as the popular media. (Acai even got a mention in the film “The Kids are Alright,” remember?) Acai has Oprah’s extremely modest endorsement and the title “superfruit” to thank for the bulk of the media blitz.

The Acai Marketing Taint

In all fairness, we have to mention the extreme irresponsibility of certain marketing firms that disguised a dubious advertising campaign for acai supplements as hard news, and also used the names of storied news organizations as well as Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Mehmet Oz to falsely support their claims. As a result, acai took kind of an Internet beating, from which it is only beginning to recover. The lesson here? Don’t claim that Oprah supports your product if it isn’t categorically true, otherwise you will have all kinds of hell to pay, brother.

Superfruit and Fahrvergnügen: Half-Brothers in Slogan-ology

In the early to mid 1990s, Volkswagen concentrated a commercial campaign slogan for their auto line into one faintly ridiculous sounding word: Fahrvergnügen. Genius! One indecipherable German word that encapsulated the whole product philosophy in four sing-song syllables. The Volkswagen brand was (and is) unique in its self-awareness and sense of humor, so the company took a word that it must’ve known would turn into a kind of an American punch-line and embraced it. Fahrvergnügen! We still love saying it.

While both “superfruit” and “Fahrvergnügen” are entirely different concepts, they are both united in their one-wordedness and boldness. It’s a bold etymological marketing decision to cram two terms together and come up with a single, highly memorable and slightly inelegant word.

In our humble opinion, it’s also kind of refreshing to see a slogan that’s not also a command. “Think Different” (Apple); “Stay Thirsty” (Dos Equis); “Think Big” (IMAX); “Keep Walking” (Johnnie Walker). Yes, Sir! Right away, Sir!

So, what have we learned today? We’ve learned that, like MC Hammer, the acai berry’s fame and wealth were compromised by devious management and poor marketing, but that it still has a slogan that can’t be touched. We’ve learned that buzzwords can be effective and enduring in the right hands. Most importantly, we’ve learned never to mess with Oprah. Well, we already knew, but it’s good to be reminded several times a day, for our own safety.

author

by Kevin Smith
Managing partner at SmashBrand. We're a group of experienced brand owners, thinkers and world-class designers united by an obsession for creating category disrupting brand experiences.

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