With demand for fresh salmon soaring, direct-to-consumer brand Secret Island Salmon needed a way to drive awareness as it expands its product line and starts courting retailers for the first time. The challenge the marketing department set itself was determining how to be edgy without going too far.
The company landed on leveraging a play on words as a way to position the brand as fun while also helping it control the narrative. The "F-word” campaign launched in September across owned media with slogans like “F*** it,” “These f****ers raise some legendary salmon” and “Happy f***ing is healthy f***ing,” intended to generate discussion and awareness about how the farmed salmon industry raises fish in a healthy and sustainable manner. Paid search and social advertising will be added early next year.
Brand awareness is up since the start of the push, while direct-to-consumer sales, earned media and audience on social media have “grown exponentially,” according to Daniel Del Coro, head of U.S. business development.
“We took our time developing this because we had to assess the risk of putting something equally aggressive and fun and kind of stake our brand positioning around this,” Del Coro said. “We took the better part of two to three months to brainstorm, and research what other brands have done similar to this and our target demographics and what their reaction would be.”
A healthy market
Secret Island Salmon is the Portland, Maine-based U.S. division of major Chilean farmed salmon supplier Salmones Austral. It understandably wants to capture a larger share of U.S. salmon sales. As the number one-selling seafood item in the U.S., fresh salmon sales reached a hefty $666 million during the first three quarters of 2023, according to Circana and 210 Analytics.
The demand for salmon is soaring globally, due to rising health consciousness, the popularity of seafood-based diets and increased disposable income in various parts of the world, per Astute Analytica. With this in mind, after two years of online-only sales, Secret Island Salmon introduced a new line of sustainably farmed salmon fillets, bacon, burgers and hot dogs to retailers at Natural Products Expo East in Philadelphia in late September.
To support the launch, Del Coro was looking for a marketing message that would engage retailers as well as Gen Z and millennial customers in discussion and raise awareness about farmed salmon and its brand. Years ago, the industry garnered negative publicity due to high rates of antibiotic use, among other practices.
“A lot of the questions and concerns about farmed salmon are based on data sets or half truths or myths about when aquaculture started in the 70s and 80s,” said Del Coro. "So much has changed, but a lot of brands have not said to consumers, ‘Let’s bring you up to speed.’ It is our brand’s opportunity to bring them up to speed with the right information so they can make an educated choice on whether they prefer to eat wild or farmed salmon — or both.”
The salmon man
The challenge was breaking through and grabbing the attention of ad-weary consumers. On the other hand, going too edgy could backfire, Del Coro and his marketing team at Portland, Maine-based Pulp + Wire recognized. So far, that hasn’t proven to be the case, with consumer and retail buyer response to the campaign being overwhelmingly positive, Del Coro reported.
"I haven’t had anyone say ‘I’m offended’ or ‘this isn’t your role,’” he said.
After seeing the favorable reaction at Natural Products Expo East and a seafood trade show this fall, Secret Island Salmon launched a comprehensive digital and social media consumer campaign across TikTok, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube that is supported by emails to users and content on its web site.
Interaction on the brand’s social media accounts has doubled, if not more, per the executive. TikTok, especially, has been more popular than he expected. Although “not in his comfort zone,” Del Coro is starring in a series of fun but informative videos as “the salmon man” on TikTok.
The company is currently testing paid ads on several platforms in advance ahead of a wider campaign roll out early next year. As the product line gains wider distribution at retail in early 2024, Del Coro expects TikTok to be instrumental.
“Gen Z now uses TikTok more than Google for finding out about a product and purchasing,” he noted.