The poor man’s Nigella? Sealord strikes up an unlikely alliance with hated reality TV star Heidi Montag—UPDATED

As Whittaker’s proved, having a famous endorser can be good for business. Sealord has also gone down that path in its latest campaign to flog premium frozen hoki fillets, but its collaboration is a little more surprising: MTV reality TV star Heidi Montag.

Montag has appeared in episodes of Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County and subsequent spin-off series The Hills, but is probably best known for the amount of plastic surgery she’s undergone. In 2010, she told People magazine she’d undergone ten cosmetic surgery procedures in a single day, including brow-lifts, ear-pinnings, a chin reduction, her second rhinoplasty and second breast augmentation. The campaign, which was conceived by Ogilvy & Mather, features Montag conducting hosting tastings in a room full of ‘regular Kiwis’, 

Given that history, focusing on ‘real’ seems like a bit of a stretch. But Sealord general manager for New Zealand Stu Yorston says the ad is about the juxtaposition of what’s real and what’s not. 

“It’s the idea that our fish is real, it’s real fish made from real fillets, in the freezer, and Heidi, whilst a lovely person, is not so real in terms of her background in terms of reality TV and the like. We used Heidi as a set up. She says, ‘they’re totally chunkalicious’. which no one real actually says, and then we have got real people in the ad saying what they think about [the product]. They are not scripted at all, the comments they’re saying are their words.”

The campaign is part of Sealord’s wider advertising strategy, which is all about being real (as this parody video shows, Greenpeace disagrees with that assertion). Yorston says it all started with a campaign using their own team members, which was created by Saatchi & Saatchi and has been running for the last couple of years. Sealord has also just ran a campaign featuring one of their skippers giving away a little boat, in association with New World’s Little Shop promotion. It also ran a campaign with comedian Oscar Kightley that saw kids who had been taught to swim through a Sealord-sponsored swimming course with Water Safety New Zealand help him to learn.

“This is just an extension of that, it’s about using real people. Now we’ve used Heidi as a juxtaposition, but the main thing behind that is how do we get real people talking about our real product in a real way and that’s what were trying to achieve,” Yorston says.

The campaign also has a push towards getting customers to create user-generated marketing content.

Sealord has conducted tastings in stores, getting people to write on post-it notes what they think about the product, and republishing that feedback online through its Taste and Tell mechanic. 

It also gave 1,000 free samples out through a Facebook offer, and recipients were asked to create a unique banner ad using their own words.

The campaign opens the seafood retailer to criticism, but they’re not worried.

“We think our product is so good it will stand for itself,” Yorston says.

This journalist has not tried the fillets, but was pleased to see that a fake-complaint message did get through uncensored.

In its press release, Sealord makes sure to laugh at itself before anyone else can, and urges its audience to see the funny side.

Heidi Montag is quoted saying, “It’s great to be able to visit New Zealand and do something this random – no one should take themselves too seriously and Sealord seems to get that.”

And Yorston backs that up.

“Absolutely, that’s who we are. We wanna have a bit of tongue and cheek stuff, talk in a real way to people and create something that’s actually going to cut through the clutter and noise out there in the marketplace from a media and advertising perspective.”

Sealord’s decision to use a famous foreigner in its ads follows in a long line of Kiwi brands that have done the same, with Steinlager, ASB, Woodstock and Ansett among the international star gazers. 

UPDATE: Saatchi & Saatchi New Zealand has been getting a few calls as a result of this story, so chief executive Nicky Bell sent through a statement: “We are not currently working with Sealord on any projects. It became clear that we had different aspirations for their brand and so we respectfully decided to part ways. We have really enjoyed the work we have done for them over the years, including the very effective ‘We live for the sea’ campaign featuring some of the incredible people who work at Sealord. We wish them every success.”

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