Inside Folgers’ plan to swap its fusty reputation for punk-rock rebelliousness

Linda J. Dodson

Folgers has a reputation problem. In an era where bespoke coffee blends have firmly settled into the U.S. mainstream, the 172-year-old marketer still holds a place in many people’s minds as the plain red tin in grandma’s cupboard. Its marketing summons memories of TV ads featuring early morning sunshine, wafting aromas and a lot of stretching — not to mention a few misfires — along with a signature jingle about what the best part of waking up is.

The J.M. Smucker-owned brand carries such sleepy associations after decades of staying in its lane as a household coffee blend that serves about 35 million consumers annually, per IRI national consumer panel data, placing it at the top of the category. But like so much else, the pandemic has altered at-home routines in significant ways that mandated a renewed approach, with Folgers now seeking a fresh cultural edge. 

Millennials and Gen Zers, who once skipped brewing their own Joe in favor of a morning stop at Starbucks on the way to the office, have purchased French presses, espresso machines and other coffee makers in massive numbers as they adjust to working from home. With that sea change, Folgers and agency PSOne, a bespoke Publicis unit for The J.M. Smucker Co., saw an opportunity to reinvent the label, while addressing what they view as widespread misconceptions. J.M. Smucker, whose other offerings include Meow Mix and Dunkin’s retail brands, consolidated U.S. creative and media duties to Publicis in 2018, while PSOne took over the Folgers work the following year.

“People, especially a younger audience that’s probably never made coffee or didn’t do it as religiously as they are now, are getting into it,” said Erica Roberts, chief creative officer at PSOne and Publicis New York. “We know that this new audience [believes] that craft is pretty critical.

An ad campaign that dropped last week creates what Roberts described as “a wake-up call for America” when it comes to understanding Folgers. The banner 60-second spot, titled “Allow Us to Reintroduce Ourselves,” opens with a woman walking down a grocery aisle stocked with Folgers red cans, with the iconic jingle humming in the background. She makes eye contact with a hip young couple who appears to disapprove of her choice of coffee before joyously swiping the products into her cart as “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts kicks in, overwhelming the soundtrack. 

“There is a bit of a marriage of the old and the new. This is a brand that’s been misunderstood for so long,” said Roberts. “We did need to jolt people’s thinking about us. Sometimes that requires a rebellious punk rock anthem.”

The ad goes on to show a variety of Folgers fans and employees at its New Orleans factories, an attempt to draw a stronger connection to Louisiana roots that consumer research showed most people didn’t know about but that felt like a crucial connection to a craft position. Folgers operates three manufacturing facilities supporting about 750 jobs in the area, and has worked to help the city recover from disasters like Hurricane Katrina. 

At the close of the commercial, “Bad Reputation” is reimagined by a marching band that’s joined by local musician Trombone Shorty. The final notes underline a sense of triumph, with copy reading, “Proudly roasted, toasted in our hometown of New Orleans.” 

“It felt like an honest part of our story. We knew we wanted to tell the craft story, and that’s where it happens,” Roberts said of the NOLA throughline in the work. 

Brewing a fresh take

Of course, one of the more noteworthy changes Folgers made involves moving past “The Best Part of Wakin’ Up” jingle that’s been the brand’s calling card since 1984. “Bad Reputation” actually predates that tune, but it’s an enduring touchstone for aspiring punk rockers. Miley Cyrus recently covered the track, while younger consumers may recall its prominence in 2001’s “Shrek.”

“It’s 100% an ageless, culturally-ingrained track,” Roberts said. 

A musical pivot from comfort to in-your-face energy follows an anonymous person acquiring all royalties to “The Best Part of Wakin’ Up” jingle last year. The auction listing for the song claimed it generated over $11,000 in royalties in the 12 months leading up to the sale, with the bulk of that derived from TV commercials. Roberts was firm that the changeover did not inform the decision to refresh Folgers. 

“That has nothing to do with the choice to come up with this new campaign,” she said. “This campaign was well under development.”

Other elements of the overhaul — an appeal to younger consumers, a stronger sense of attitude and deeper cultural ties — fall squarely within PSOne’s prior work for J.M. Smucker. Last year, the agency group switched up peanut butter label Jif’s marketing with a campaign that tried to bridge hip-hop’s old and new schools. Ads showed the motor-mouthed rapper Ludicrous discovering a new, more lyrical flow after eating a spoonful of Jif, a concept derived from the criticism that rap’s up-and-comers sound like they have peanut butter on the roof of their mouths. For those who grew up with Jif commercials about being the top pick for choosy suburban moms, it was a noteworthy 180. 

Still, Roberts reinforced that PSOne takes a tailored approach to each brand in J.M. Smucker’s portfolio.  

“It’s a very different story in that Jif was always about taste … whereas, Folgers has always been about the routine, the lifestyle of coffee,” said Roberts. “But they never talked about, in a meaningful way, what went into the best parts of waking up.”

Addressing misperceptions

To complement the anthem commercial, Folgers and PSOne produced a series of shorter 15- and 6-second video ads that try to paint a more well-rounded picture of the brand. One spot, “No One Hit Wonder,” opens in the fashion of an old-school Folgers ad before showcasing a product line that extends well beyond the red can, including through a premium 1850 heritage label introduced in 2018 that targets millennials. In total, the company sells more than 20 varieties of coffee.  

Additional elements encompass integrations with Vice and placements on networks like E!, NBC, Bravo, Oxygen and ABC. A dedicated landing page on Folgers’ website walks visitors through company history and the work it’s doing to dispel its fusty reputation. On social media, the brand is deploying tie-ups with popular influencers The Try Guys and @Rod, a TikTok creator who riffs on millennial trends and has an audience of 1.4 million. Experiential activations will factor in later down the line, though details on that front are scant for now. 

In the meantime, Folgers is encouraging its core fans to use the hashtag #DamnRightItsFolgers as a sort of rebuke to receiving side-eye for their choice of coffee. 

“It’s one last chest-beat, and not the brand chest-beating,” said Roberts. “It’s more like the pride of the people who drink it, the people who brew it, the people who make it.”

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