CANDICE CHOI, AP Food Industry Writer
NEW YORK (AP) – Kool-Aid is unveiling a new look for its big red mascot Monday, as the powdered drink brand looks to refresh its image and tout a new liquid mix.
The Kool-Aid Man, known for busting through walls and his “Oh yeah!” tagline, will now be computer-generated and take on the personality of a celebrity trying to show he’s just a normal guy. In past ads, the character was played by an actor in foam costume and had little to say or do besides crashing through a wall with a big, smiley face.
The campaign comes as Kool-Aid plays up its liquid mix, which debuted in January and recently reached national distribution. The new mix reflects a push by Kraft Foods to adjust to changing tastes and replicate the success of its liquid flavor enhancer called MiO.
MiO, which people squirt into water for flavor, has already spawned copycats including Coca-Cola Co.’s Dasani Drops. Executives say people like them because the small bottles are easier to carry around than powder mixes and let people add as much or as little flavor as they like.
The growing popularity of liquid mixes hasn’t been good for Kool-Aid. In 2012, the brand’s U.S. sales were down 5 percent to $338 million, according to the market researcher Euromonitor International. That was following a 4 percent drop the previous year.
The liquid mix is a return to Kool-Aid’s roots. It began as a syrup called “Fruit Smack” in 1920. The product wasn’t modified into a concentrated powder until 1927, when it was renamed “Kool-Ade.” The current spelling followed in the early 1930s.
The Kool-Aid Man, meanwhile, made his first appearance in 1954 and has taken on various looks through the years. Kraft says his last big makeover was in 2000.
Erica Rendall, senior brand manager at Kraft Foods Group Inc., says the new ads are intended to fill in the blanks in Kool-Aid Man’s character so people can relate to him.
“He said a few things here and there (in the past), but he really didn’t have a developed personality,” she said.
In one of the new commercials, the scene opens with the character’s round silhouette behind a shower curtain. When he steps out, he’s a clear pitcher of water and he explains in a voiceover that his life isn’t all “cherry and sweetness.”
“I put my pants on one leg at a time,” the voiceover notes, as he stands in front of a pantry full of Kool-Aid mixes deciding what to wear. “Except my pants are 22 different flavors. I’ve got grape pants, I’ve got watermelon pants.”
But Kraft isn’t abandoning trademarks of its past campaigns in the new ads, which were developed by the ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi. At the end of the commercial, the Kool-Aid Man heads out to work by calming busting through the front door. When he emerges, he waves cheerily to two awestruck kids riding their bikes past his front lawn.
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