Product Magic Case Study: The Oreo Cookie

“If you’ve never eaten an Oreo for breakfast you’re missing the point of living in a first world country.”
- kellyoxford

There is no reason why the black and white, abhorrently non-natural looking, crusty-squishy Oreo should be popular or delicious but it’s both, in spades. The Oreo has been one of the top-selling cookie products since its release in 1912 from a dingy factory on the west side of Manhattan. The Oreo is the best selling cookie of the 20th century with over 491 billion units sold. This means close to a half trillion decisions have been made whether or not to twist off the top and go for creamy goodness or just throw caution to the wind and bite down with no remorse. These numbers also imply an impossibly large number of stomach aches have followed Oreo cookie eating free for alls (I know I’m not the only one).

In Product Magic terms the Oreo is a classic example of the Slow Refiner. Three things distinguish the Oreo in its history:

  • Refinement of the product. Over time, Nabisco has crafted the Oreo into the perfect product, experimenting with different product names and recipes. There are dozens of Oreo varieties that switch up either the filling, the texture, the flavor, or some other characteristic. There are Mint Oreos, Double Stuff Oreos, and Dominos even has an Oreo pizza. These Oreos are interesting (and delicious) variations but there is only one defining Oreo.
  • Aggressive advertising. Oreo grew up during the heyday of the advertising world and Nabisco spared no expense making the brand recognizable in every corner of America. Nabisco/Kraft vigorously promotes each new product, spending $34 million on Oreo-related ads in 2001, a third of all spending in the entire cookie category. The result? From 1995 to 2002, Oreo sales grew at an average annual rate of 7.5%, more than four times faster than the category.
  • Dunking Oreos. Chalk it up to the above advertising, but there aren’t many products that have a cultural touchstone to themselves. You dunk a basketball, you dunk a donut, and you dunk an Oreo. Not a cookie, an Oreo.

The Oreo cookie has Product Magic in every fiber of its bad-for-you being. Nabisco spends mountains of money ensuring that you have an association with the product, and that you know what to do when you have the cookie in hand. More than that, they also spend money researching to extend the “Oreo Halo” to varieties beyond the definitive version. Oreos may be delicious, but there’s a lot of effort put into turning that ugly cookie into a transcendant experience. It’s a beautiful combination of great product refinement, advertising and branding.

Main Photo by Maria Keays.

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