Heinz gets free exposure on TV when 'Mad Men' plot features its beans

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Heinz executives seem to be pretty tough clients.

Peggy got so exasperated in this week's "Mad Men" episode on AMC that she told them off when they didn't like her pitch for selling baked beans using the tagline, "Home is where the Heinz is."

"It's young and it's beautiful. And no one else is going to say that about beans," the incensed character from fictional ad agency Sterling Cooper told the actors playing the unimpressed executives from Pittsburgh's signature food company.

No offense to beans, or anything. The real-life Heinz officials certainly don't seem to be taking any, even if their on-screen peers aren't coming off as much more romantic than a hill of beans.

"Heinz is pleased that the storyline featuring Heinz beans featured in the season-opening episode of 'Mad Men' has reappeared in recent episodes," company spokeswoman Jessica Jackson said this week.

The baked beans starred in the March 25 episode of the TV show with a cult-like following, showed up again April 1 and then reappeared April 22 -- all without the helping hand of the Pittsburgh company.

"The company was not involved in placing this product in the series, nor have we had any dialogue with the show's producers," Ms. Jackson said.

But, hey, the timing couldn't be better. Earlier this year, the company began trying to get back into the U.S. baked bean market in a significant way, something it hadn't done since the 1970s.

"While not planned, the recent return of Heinz beans to the U.S. market in the form of a line of four Heinz HomeStyle Beans items coincides nicely with the timing of the show's storyline," Ms. Jackson said.

This isn't the first time the company has gotten free marketing by virtue of being embedded in the consumer consciousness as well as in its kitchens, as Meatloaf's song about "Bagel Bites" on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" last year proved.

In the mid-1960s, the company's baked beans (probably the U.K. version) even seem to have been the subject of a tweet-length song on the album "The Who Sell Out" (www.allmusic.com/song/heinz-baked-beans-t3560449).

"I think it's wonderful for them," said Michael Walsh, assistant professor of marketing at West Virginia University. Mr. Walsh, a fan of the TV show, used to work for the Ketchum ad agency that started in Pittsburgh and appears to be Sterling Cooper's competition for the fictionalized Heinz account.

He thinks viewers are unlikely to hold the actions of the sometimes intransigent on-screen company executives against the real life company, which is getting free exposure in a stylized setting. "On the whole, it has more benefits than detractions."

It could be hard to gauge just how much the comfort food's cameo will actually drive cans off grocery store shelves. "I don't know that 'Mad Men' reaches the same demographic that is going to be purchasing baked beans," noted Jason Snyder, vice president at Downtown-based WordWrite Communications.

Ms. Jackson did not say if the TV show has become popular viewing at the Pittsburgh food company or if staff members huddle around their coffee on Monday mornings to compare notes.

Instead, she closed her response with a corporate cheer: "Heinz employees are proud to work for a company that is widely recognized as a timeless and iconic brand that has played a role in the lives of millions of Americans for more than a hundred years."

food - businessnews

Teresa F. Lindeman can be reached at tlindeman@post-gazette.com or at 412-263-2018. First Published April 28, 2012 12:45 AM


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