Wholly Veggie: The plant-based brand with a hard-rock attitude

Who: Wholly Veggie, with Party Land for creative; Baker Echo for strategy; The Goondocks for production, and Basis Technologies for media.

What: “Haha, You Just Ate Vegetables,” a North American campaign for the five-year-old plant-based food brand.

When & Where: The campaign launched this week, running across social and digital in major markets throughout Canada and the U.S. It will continue into 2023, with a particular emphasis on post-holiday health and Super Bowl entertaining.

Why: John Bonnell, a onetime Canadian agency guy (Sid Lee, Critical Mass) who co-founded Wholly Veggie with David Gaucher in 2017, said the goal is for Wholly Veggie to stand out in the frozen food category.

The campaign represents phase two of the launch of a new brand identity for the Toronto-based company, following the recent introduction of revamped packaging. “It’s the first time we’ve planted our creative flag,” said Bonnell. “Prior to this, we experimented with a number of different things to increase awareness or generate trial, but nothing like this. This to me is the biggest and boldest thing we’ve ever done.”

It arrives at the end of a pivotal year for the company, which will have its products available in some 6,500 stores across the U.S. and Canada by the end of 2022. Its products are currently available in several major grocery retailers including Target, Whole Foods, Sprouts, Fresh Thyme and Wegmans, as well as Sobeys and Loblaws.

Let’s get this Party (Land) started: This is the first work for Wholly Veggie from Party Land, the buzzy L.A. agency that has previously produced attention-getting campaigns for brands including Dave’s Hot Chicken and the start-up water brand Liquid Death.

Wholly Veggies selected Party Land after what Bonnell described as a “mini-RFP” that attracted the interest of several agencies from both Canada and the U.S. “We met a lot of really cool agencies, and to be honest I was surprised that so many agencies were interested in a small brand like ours,” he said.

There was an instant connection between Wholly Veggies and Party Land, said Bonnell. “We knew with them that they wouldn’t hold back in terms of how far they would go,” he said. “It just felt like these guys could come up with something that would make us uncomfortable, and if we felt uncomfortable, it would tell us we were going down the right path.”

How: The goal was to create something shareable and engaging, he said. “I knew from the moment we started this journey that the creative had to do a lot of heavy lifting, since we wouldn’t have the media budget to take it across the country.”

Each of the campaign’s three ads uses a driving heavy metal-esque song written by Party Land creatives Matt Heath and Matt Rogers—both of whom are musicians—to deliver a funny narrative about the time-honoured tradition of tricking people into eating vegetables.

Perhaps the funniest spot, “Mom & Dad,” features parents outsmarting their children who want wings for dinner, but instead are served Wholly Veggie’s Buffalo Cauliflower Wings. “Your kids think they’re smart, they’re not as smart as you,” is the lyric sung by the Ozzy Osbourne wannabe. “They don’t have a clue, undeveloped brains.” The spot ends with the parents gloating over having got the kids to eat veggies, suggesting that betraying the kids’ trust is a small price to pay for getting them to eat healthy.

A second spot, “The Couple” (Bonnell’s personal favourite), has a man tricking his longtime partner who’s never eaten vegetables by serving him Wholly Veggie’s Mozzarella Style Sticks, while a third, “Midnight Snacker,” shows a woman surprised to discover that she has eaten a whole box of the brand’s Sweet Potato Popcorn late at night. In addition to the head-nodding “Wholly Veggie” hook repeated throughout, each spot also ends with the sting “You just ate vegetables.”

Any concerns about portraying parents tricking their kids? “I’m trying to elicit an emotional reaction from people,” said Bonnell. “I don’t want to have an angry mob of parents at my door, but I don’t want to run some campaign that’s like everybody else’s. It’s tedious and tiring, and you’re not going to get a reaction.

“The best creative always evokes an emotional reaction, and that’s what we’re trying to do with this campaign,” he added. “Whether the reaction is ‘What the hell was that?’ or it’s a chuckle. I’m not looking for people to have a warm bubble bath with this.”

And we quote: “The Wholly Veggie brand has always been a bit subversive and we wanted our advertising to be, too. The team at Party Land understood that and brought us an idea that takes an old food advertising trope—attempting to get your family to eat healthy—and turns it into something completely unexpected and incredibly memorable.” —John Bonnell, co-founder, Wholly Veggie



Chris Powell