Knorr's Recipe for Viral Content

David Aaker
Marketing News
Current average rating    
Key Takeaways

​What? Viral content is hard to plan. Food brand Knorr created a viral campaign twice.

So what? The key to Knorr's virality was a combination of storytelling, appeal to human emotion and strategic omni-channel experience.

Now what? Consider the ways consumers can connect your brand to their identity and provide opportunities for them to personalize their engagements, such as building a profile or receiving tailored content.

​Oct. 1, 2017

The consumer soup brand traded product descriptions for storytelling and won brand equity 

Global Unilever food brand Knorr has a collection of rather unexciting products such as soup, sauces and dressings, yet it earns more than $3 billion per year. Twice in the last two years it has told stories that went viral—an amazing accomplishment that provides learning to others.

Knorr is a brand whose roots go back to a dried pea soup in 1889 and the bouillon cube in 1912. The hallmark of the brand has always been flavor, to provide homemakers and professional cooks access to the most interesting, delectable and unique aromas and tastes. The challenge is how to communicate that mission and the products that enable it.

Flavor of Home

The first viral video, launched March 25, 2015, was inspired by two realizations: a survey that found more than 80% of respondents felt that being cooked for is an expression of love, and that flavor is more than taste; it is about emotions elicited by meaningful moments, committed to memory and tied to the sense.

The video describes Carmen, a lover of dogs and adventures, who left her home in Portsmouth, England, to work as a husky guide in Finland. After three years, she missed her mom, her home, and the Sunday dinners her family shared with the familiar menu, aromas and tastes. She gets emotional describing and visualizing those meals. 


 Knorr - Flavour of Home


Knorr made her dream of experiencing those dinners come to life. It transported Carmen’s mom to her Artic outpost to cook that meal. After Carmen started to eat and savor those flavors, she emotionally returned in her mind to Portsmouth. Then her mom walked through the door. The reunion was an event everyone could relate to. 

Guided by a social media command center, the video has been viewed more than 100 million times and garnered more than 100,000 social interactions. 

Knorr’s “Home Dining Day” video in Hong Kong, with a similar theme, received 1.5 million views and extensive media coverage in less than two weeks. The video follows a mother and son as they share their memories of what a home-cooked meal means to them. The son is particularly attached to these meals but misses them more and more because of work or friends. As he watches a video of his mom describing her love for him as she cooks a meal, he is surprised and moved when that meal is presented to him. The video host bursts into tears herself when she is surprised by a meal from her grandmother. In both cases, the emotion created by the meal and its connection with family is authentic and powerful.

Love at First Taste

Videos describing the feeling of receiving a home-cooked meal away from home would be ineffective with millennials. They became Knorr’s prime focus because they are a demographic interested in food and cooking, with less exposure to the brand. Knorr needed another approach that would break through their attention barrier, gain involvement and activate social media.

The answer was to link flavor preference to romantic relationships. The idea was based in part on a survey which found that 78% of respondents would be attracted to someone who shared their flavor preferences, and one-third worried that a flavor mismatch could doom a relationship. In addition, millennials use food preference to characterize themselves even on dating sites. Elevating flavor to a role in romantic partnering was indeed intriguing. Why not concoct an experiment to test whether flavor preference could influence love?

To determine flavor preferences, Knorr worked with IBM to create an online flavor profiler that allows people to discover which of 12 flavor profiles best describe them. Profiles included Roasted Romantic, Tangy Dynamo, Meaty Warrior, Earthy Idealist and Melty Indulger. With data on flavor profiles available, the #LoveAtFirstTaste test could proceed.

People were asked to have a foodie date with someone they had not previously met but who had a similar flavor personality, as measured by the flavor profiler. The proviso was that they had to feed their partners—no eating on their own. A video of seven participating couples offered awkward getting-started moments with some uncertainty as to where it was going. Then there was fun, humor and many tender moments. Even a blindfold and a kiss. 


 Knorr - Love at First Taste


Knorr scored again, helped by an organized plan with strategies for six social media vehicles and a program to promote the video and the flavor profiler. The video was viewed more than 100 million times over all platforms for a total of 2.2 billion impressions, 72% of which were free (earned). Brand equity measures such as brand appeal and “my sort of brand” rose 7% and recommendation and differentiation saw a 5% rise. Purchase intent among millennials grew 14% in the top 11 markets (as compared to 1.5% in the prior year). Those that used the profiler got recipes tailored to their profile.


Note the length of the two videos: just longer than three minutes. It does not require the patience of a 20- or 30-minute video but is still a commitment. At a time of reduced attention span and increased media cost, there is an effort to keep the communication short—5, 10, or 15 seconds. These videos are not in that mold. 

The videos were professionally done, the first by Sundance award-winner Nanette Burstein and the second by Tatia Pilieva whose “First Kiss” video went viral and won a Cannes award. Further, the social media campaign was organized and aggressive. Knorr did not just sit back and hope that lighting would strike.

Knorr got away from product features and benefits with powerful stories to tell. The stories were intriguing, authentic and involving because of the characters that were developed, the plot with its tension and surprise baked in and the emotion around relationships of people.

The two videos were very different. One was based on the emotions of family relationships, the memories of a home-cooked meal and a surprise. The second went another way—the awkwardness of beginning a romantic relationship with an intriguing premise and moments of warmth and humor.

The flavor message seeped through in part because the food and the flavor were the heroes of the story. Because the message was not obvious, it was more likely to get through. There was no counterarguing. It was just a story.

The campaigns could not have succeeded with conventional media, they were designed for and directed toward social media. No communication about the product or its attributes or benefits could have had anything close to this impact.

The impact came in part from brand visibility and from the affect transfer from the video to the brand. Visibility is one key to relevance consideration. Liking an advertisement and the associated emotions have been shown to create attachment to the advertised brand.

Recommended For You:
AMA PCM Digital Marketing Exam What Makes Online Content Viral? Research Shows It's Anger, Shock and Awe. Kit Kat Goes Viral With Chance the Rapper

AMA PCM Digital Marketing Exam

What Makes Online Content Viral? Research Shows It's Anger, Shock and Awe.

Kit Kat Goes Viral With Chance the Rapper


 Sign Up for Marketing News Weekly

Get the best marketing thought leadership delivered directly to your inbox!

Author Bio:

David Aaker
David Aaker is vice chairman of Prophet, the author of Aaker on Branding and a member of the NYAMA Marketing Hall of Fame.
Add A Comment :

Become a Member
Access our innovative members-only resources and tools to further your marketing practice.