How Rethink and Heinz capitalized on Taylor Swift’s ketchup moment

From would-be political kingmaker, to her outsized role in empowering women and girls, the cultural impact of pop superstar Taylor Swift “seemingly” can’t be overstated.

Not surprisingly, brands are also keen to align themselves with someone offering an enticing combination of immense reach and wholesomeness, and just such an opportunity literally came spiralling into Kraft Heinz’s arms over the weekend.

North America’s sports and entertainment media went into overdrive when Swift was spotted at Sunday’s NFL game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Bears at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, where she was supporting her latest paramour, the Chiefs’ all-star tight-end Travis Kelce.

But it was a seemingly innocuous X post by a Taylor Swift stan account that set the stage for even more marketing magic from Kraft Heinz and its agency partner, Rethink—whose partnership in recent years has yielded award-winning campaigns like “Draw Ketchup” and “The Heinz Hot Dog Pact.”

The post showed Swift in one of Arrowhead’s luxury suite, while somewhat drolly noting that she was eating a piece of chicken “with ketchup and seemingly ranch.”

In that mysterious way some of the communications formerly known as “tweets” go viral—although probably helped in this case by Swift’s immense fame—this one resonated with audiences and brands alike, and was subsequently picked up and spoofed by brands including Hidden Valley Ranch (which also changed its handle on X to Seemingly Ranch), Universal Orlando Resort, and Arbys.

Also looking on was the Rethink Vancouver creative team of Mustaali Raj and Thom Peters. Reasoning that the ketchup in the picture must be Heinz given the brand’s enormous popularity, they conceived a way to piggyback on the fleeting cultural moment.

“We always try to keep our eye on things like this and see if there’s a space in there for us to react, especially on the Heinz brand because it’s so culturally ubiquitous and pops up in all kinds of places,” said Geoff Baillie, creative director at Rethink in Toronto.

“Whenever something like this comes up we’re texting each other and saying ‘Where’s the opportunity for us to react and jump on it?’ and the clients are very involved in those conversations as well.”

There was already something inherently funny in the phrase “seemingly ranch,” said Baillie. “And I’m sure she was having Heinz ketchup at the stadium; I’m sure they’re not serving off-brand ketchup there” (The Message did reach out to the Chiefs’ media department to determine which brand of ketchup is served at Arrowhead, but did not hear back).

A little before 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Raj and Peter had come up with what seemed like a viable way to tap into the cultural conversation: Why not temporarily the label on Kranch, an existing Kraft Heinz product blending ketchup and ranch dressing, to read Ketchup and Seemingly Ranch?

They submitted the idea to Kraft Heinz’s senior brand manager Jacqueline Chao, who gave them the go-ahead, and Rethink’s creative teams in Vancouver and Toronto began refining the idea over the next several hours.

On Tuesday evening, Heinz’s social channels posted a picture of the “new” product, calling it a “new era” for the brand and pledging to make 100 of the bottles available to consumers. The number was determined by combining Swift’s lucky number (13) and Kelce’s jersey number (#87).

It was reminiscent of the speed with which another Rethink client, Coors Light, capitalized on a chance to tap into a cultural moment when a long foul ball off the bat of Los Angeles Angels’ superstar Shohei Ohtani damaged one of its billboards at Citi Field in New York.

“In both [cases] the bottles are real, so you can plant the flag with a social post…and make the bottles a real thing in the coming days,” said Baillie.

By Wednesday, the product’s tie-in with Swift ensured that the product launch received coverage from a range of celebrity-focused outlets like TMZ and US Weekly to more mainstream outlets like CNN.

Heinz and Swift may never ever (ever ever) get back together, but for a brief shining moment this week, they were able to find a common bond that won’t easily be shaken off.

Chris Powell