Mr. Peanut Is Back, But Planters Is Giving Away the $5 Million It Would Have Spent on a Super Bowl Ad

  • Planters' monocled Mr. Peanut is back, but he won't be headed to Sunday's Super Bowl (at least not in a traditional commercial like last year). 
  • Planters "killed off" its mascot last year, but brought it back in the form of a Baby Nut during its Super Bowl ad last year.
  • This year, Planters will give away $5 million to people doing charitable acts it's calling "acts of substance," as it seeks to position the brand as a substantive alternative to other snacks.

After an unlikely death, a star-studded Super Bowl funeral and an apparent reincarnation, Planters' monocled Mr. Peanut is back.

But instead of running a Super Bowl spot this year, the snack brand is giving away the $5 million it would have spent running one.

Kraft Heinz' year-long circle-of-life campaign around Mr. Peanut culminates Monday with a new storyline and an announcement that Planters will take the roughly $5 million it would ordinarily spend on a Super Bowl ad slot and instead route that money to recognize people doing charitable acts. The brand is calling them "acts of substance," a play on positioning the snack as a substantive alternative to options like potato chips. 

The new campaign, done with VaynerMedia, also represents a broader shift in how the company plans to do some of its future marketing, according to Sanjiv Gajiwala, Kraft Heinz's U.S. chief growth officer. 

In the weeks before last year's NFL championship game, Planters released a video showing Mr. Peanut sacrificing himself to save actors Wesley Snipes and Matt Walsh by plunging to his death. Then during the game, the brand broadcast the nut's funeral. It ended with a Baby Nut growing out of the ground, aided by a tear from the Kool-Aid Man. 

The unusual campaign was everywhere: Mr. Peanut appeared in a "Saturday Night Live" cold open that was set in hell. He was the subject of a New Yorker cartoon with the caption: "The good news is he donated his organs to peanut butter." People loved it or they hated it, but it definitely got noticed. 

"Last year, we set the goal with Planters to have the most talked-about Super Bowl ad ever made. And I think we accomplished that with Mr. Peanut's unlikely demise," Gajiwala said. "We had 11 billion earned impressions last year. There's a ton of coverage around it. And throughout the year, Mr. Peanut showed up in culture in a lot of different ways." 

Throughout the year, Baby Nut grew into a 21-year-old and eventually into a middle-aged nut man named Bart. On Friday, the brand video dropped a teaser on social media with the text: "Found my monocle. See you soon."  

But moving forward, Kraft is looking for Planters to have a different kind of relationship with consumers — one that's a little more substantive, perhaps.

Gajiwala said after the many challenges of 2020, the brand wanted to recognize people who step up to help. The company said this could take the form of a couple who donated the catering of a canceled wedding to those in need, or someone who paid a neighbor's past-due utility bills. 

The company said it will be announcing its first recipient this week and will announce more on social media during the Super Bowl. Then, throughout the year, it plans to keep finding people to feature.

Planters will give them money as a reward in some cases, and in others to help them continue work they're doing with donations. The company didn't say how many people would receive funding but said it is committed to using all of the $5 million it would otherwise have spent on advertising in Sunday's big game.

Gajiwala said this ties in to where Kraft Heinz wants to move its marketing. Instead of the brand talking about itself, he said the company wants to have more frequent, everyday connections with consumers. 

"We're trying to shift from talking ... on a sporadic basis [around] big moments, to moving towards interacting every day about what they care about," he said. "For us, that means reorienting our marketing teams to focus on agility, to think about how we can generate more meaningful content that gets connected to our consumers in more creative ways. And most importantly, around moments that matter to the consumer." 

It's more of a sober note than the nutty year the brand has had, but it's hopeful people will like it.

"From a tone standpoint, and an action standpoint, it's going to be very different than where we've been in the past. And so I think there's going to be a little bit of surprise," he said. But given the component of celebrating good deeds, "I think that consumers are going to celebrate that and hopefully recognize that this is the first step on a journey for us."

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Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC and NBC, which broadcasts "Saturday Night Live."

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