Twinkies and other Hostess snack cakes officially started what their ads call “the sweetest comeback in the history of forever” on Monday, and Kansas City more than played its part.
Company headquarters, which had moved from Kansas City to Texas in 2009, is back in town.
“We felt Kansas City was home,” said Rich Seban, the president and chief operating officer of the new Hostess.
And that advertising tag-line and the rest of the big campaign for the comeback is the work of Kansas City agency Bernstein-Rein.
On Monday — from Twinkie the Kid greeting early TV viewers on “Today,” to billboards across the country announcing the comeback, to “street teams” passing out Twinkies, CupCakes and other Hostess favorites in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles — Hostess and its ad agency made sure everyone knew the snacks were back.
“We wanted to totally embrace this iconic brand” and everyone who loved it and wanted it back, said Dave Lubeck, Bernstein-Rein’s executive vice president and executive director of client services. “But at the same time we wanted to expand the audience to younger people.”
So the agency used traditional media such as billboards but added a social media blitz and “talking in the language” of younger people, Lubeck said.
Leading up to Monday’s big return, besides billboards and those same street teams passing out T-shirts and promotional fliers, Bernstein-Rein made sure the word was getting out through a “countdown clock” on HostessCakes.com, along with photos, posts and videos on such social media as Facebook, Twitter, Vine, YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest.
As fans of Sno Balls and Suzy Q’s and all things Hostess know, the snacks disappeared late last year, along with several bread brands, when Hostess Brands decided to liquidate after it couldn’t reach a contract agreement with its bakers union. The company, once headquartered in Kansas City as Interstate Bakeries, had been troubled before, and in and out of bankruptcy, before entering Chapter 11 reorganization again in early 2012.
The snack cake brands were bought by turnaround specialists Metropoulos Co. and Apollo Global Management. Eleven bakeries have been cut to four, including one in Emporia, Kan.
Bernstein-Rein, which had done advertising for Hostess for almost eight years, was sure the brands would survive, Lubeck said, and was happy to keep the account.
While Hostess Brands struggled last year, Lubeck said, Bernstein-Rein continued to help the company and even sent its Hostess group account director to Dallas to help with marketing. As a result, the Kansas City agency had an unusual inside view of the company’s pluses and minuses, and of the brands’ prospects.
“We had a great relationship with Rich Seban,” who was Hostess’ chief marketing officer and chief operating officer, Lubeck said. It didn’t hurt a bit when the new owners made Seban president and chief operating officer of the new Hostess.
“We knew someone would buy those brands,” Lubeck said, and then the buyers “asked us to get involved” with Hostess’ comeback.
And now when Hostess and Bernstein-Rein have a high-level meeting, it can easily happen in Kansas City.
Seban said Monday that although executive offices and the official headquarters for Hostess Brands had moved to Texas a few years ago, most operations had stayed in Kansas City. And with the brands being reborn under a new owner, “we had a chance, and it made sense, to consolidate operations in one place.”
Hostess headquarters is back at the corner of Armour Boulevard and Main Street, with about 75 employees now and around 100 expected in a few weeks.
“We’re happy to be back,” Seban said.
Less than two miles south and west from Hostess headquarters, Bernstein-Rein employees had their own office party Monday morning, at 46th Street and Madison Avenue. Company founder Bob Bernstein was on hand, along with, of course, plenty of Twinkies.
The Hostess comeback “is a great story,” Lubeck said, “and it has been great for our agency. We’re energized.”