Did you hear about the latest Oreo cookie launch? There's a good chance you have, but most likely not from an ad.
Candy Corn Oreos appear to be the type of product that sells itself in social media: Consumers see a picture of it and can't help but post it to their Facebook Page, pin it to Pinterest or tweet about it. By Monday, the day the cookies hit Target, awareness was sky high even though parent company Kraft never ran an ad, posted a Facebook update or tweeted about the product. In fact, the first mention of Candy Corn Oreo appears to be from BuzzFeed, whose reporting was based on a Target employee from an Orlando, Fla., location.
Why all the fuss? Marcia Mogelonsky, director of insights at packaged good consultancy Mintel, chalks it up to partially to nostalgia.
"It represents Halloween," she says, referring to candy corn, "even though people don't really love it."
But what really makes the product a hit is something perhaps unexpected: It's a little disgusting. Mogelonsky won't go that far, but acknowledges that "there's a certain hint of grossness" about Candy Corn Oreos. Consuming such a product is "odd and kind of daring," she says.
There's ample precedent for items -- call them stunt products -- that are gross and appealing enough to create an Internet frenzy. For instance, in April 2010, KFC introduced a sandwich called Double Down that replaced the requisite two slices of bread with two slabs of fried chicken, which encased dripping cheese and bacon. The latter ingredient may explain some of the success of Double Down as well: Bacon, especially rendered in new ways (chocolate-covered bacon, anyone?) has been a fetish object for the Internet for years.
Grossness aside, Candy Corn Oreos have two other elements that make for a perfect storm of a social media product launch: "Limited edition" and "household staple." Another hot product, Campbell Soup's limited-edition Andy Warhol soup cans, which are also hitting shelves this month, fit the second two criteria, but aren't disgusting. Jones Soda's limited-edition Turkey & Gravy Soda, meanwhile, was gross and limited-edition, but wasn't well-known enough to make much of a fuss.
That 2003 launch also suffered from a lack of infrastructure. As Mogelonsky notes, limited-edition foods are not new. However, social media greatly amplifies the reach of such launches. "The word gets out exponentially," she says. "People repost it on four or five social media sites."
All of which may send food marketers back to the labs for more stomach-churning concoctions. After all, how long until we see Bacon Oreos hitting our Facebook feeds?
This story originally published on Mashable here.