Wednesday May 31, 2023

How InnovAsian put itself on America’s menu

Duncan Channon helped Chinese food brand InnovAsian overtake their biggest rival. Read about the unconventional strategy the team used to stand out from a tired menu of brands, while maximising a tight budget. This entry was the winner in the Consumer category at the US arm of The Drum Marketing Awards in 2020.

The challenge

Chinese frozen food brand InnovAsian was living in the long shadow of category leader, PF Chang’s. According to an Attitude & Usage Study, conducted in 2019, 55% of frozen Asian food buyers had never heard of it, but almost everyone knew the PF Chang’s brand – thanks to the restaurants popular across America. So when customers walked up to the freezer aisle, they tended to reach for the name they recognized. The client’s request was simple: “Fix that.”

The team at Duncan Channon was tasked with two specific goals:

  • Increase unaided awareness of the brand.
  • Increase sales in key markets.

Given a limited budget, it was necessary to be extremely strategic.

The strategy

Reviewing the advertising in the category, it became obvious that Asian food brands typically fall back on the lure of exotic ingredients and foreign flavors. Common phrases included “embark on a culinary journey”, “every bite transports you to Asia” and “prepare to excite.” But the reality is these flavors aren’t exotic or foreign to Americans. Chinese cuisine is America’s favorite ethnic food, eclipsing even Italian. In fact, according to Euromonitor, 75% of Americans eat Chinese food every month.

That being said, in more rural or remote parts of the country, access can be an issue. Additionally, the team discovered that while the audience loved Chinese food, few attempted to make it at home due to the specific tools, hard-to-find ingredients and specialist skills required. InnovAsian presented the perfect solution by bringing beloved Asian food directly and conveniently into the home.

The team set out to teach America that there was only one name to remember when reaching for Chinese food.

The client expected that flavour would pave the way to success. After all the Attitude and Usage Survey found that InnovAsian had the highest score of any brand evaluated. But the team convinced them to leverage a more unique and insightful way in, reinforcing the convenience and comfort of the product with a new slogan: “That’s an InnovAsian occasion”.

The campaign

Research showed the audience still relied on traditional television, despite the rising trend of streaming services. This meant the team could focus on one medium and purchase an economical daypart plan. To further squeeze the budget, they planned 15-second spots with the unique twist of a memorable bookend strategy. One advert would run at the beginning of a commercial break, then after all the other brands, InnovAsian would return at the close of the break. This meant multiple impressions for less cost than a 30-second ad, making it feel like a bigger, more established brand.

Details of the media buy:

  • 21 markets

  • 3 channels (TV, CTV, Facebook/Instagram)

  • 2 flights (Q1 & Q3/Q4)

  • 4x 15-second spots

  • 15+ FSIs, mailers, shelf talkers

  • Digital banners, radio, eBlast for MFFM

  • 25+ organic social posts

  • Creative featured on

The immediate response proved the case study was worth its sodium. In the markets where the adverts ran, unaided awareness numbers jumped by 400% and sales were up at WalMart stores (the primary retail outlet) by 14.1% after only one month. Finally and very significantly, in the target markets InnovAsian overtook its biggest rival, the mighty P.F. Chang’s.

Detailed results in the first quarter:

  • 400% increase in unaided awareness (category 2% to 10%)

  • Huge increase in unaided awareness (IA customers 2% to 35%)

  • 33% increase in household penetration (6/18 to 6/19)

  • 14.1% increase in incremental sales (Walmart media stores during campaign)

  • Best Overall Marketing Campaign at NFRA

  • Beat PF Chang’s in gross sales (May-June without appetizers)

Additionally, the team conducted a segmentation study. After exposure to the InnovAsian Occasion concept, 11% of households claimed they would purchase the brand in the future. In fact, the campaign was so effective, it even won the brand its first ever Golden Penguin (the frozen food manufacturer’s highest honour).

This project was a winner at The Drum Awards for Marketing 2020, which are currently open for entry. To find out more about The Drum Awards, click here.


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