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How a Slim Jim saved my life

Let me spin you a yarn that tells the tale of how a few meat scraps and spices packed in a pig intestine saved a man's life.  Slim Jim meat snacks are made by GoodMark Foods, Inc. of Raleigh, North Carolina. GoodMark also manufactures and markets other snacks, including Pemmican Beef Jerky, Penrose/Big Mama snack sausages, and Andy Capp’s Fries.  GoodMark is an Independent Operating Company (IOC) of ConAgra, Inc., the second largest food company in the U.S.  Slim Jim is a mature brand that has been in existence for over 50 years. The original Slim Jim was a long, slender pepperoni that was sold in taverns and general stores in the Northeast. Over the years, Slim Jim has been transformed into the spicy, zesty snack that it is today.

Slim Jim has enjoyed a long history and this flagship brand has been responsible to carrying the parent company, GoodMark Foods, through a series of acquisitions, management buy-outs, and an IPO. Slim Jim has long been a staple of the convenience store customer, and has experienced slow and steady growth over the years. 

However, in the mid-1990s, the brand began to see more competitive players in the field of meat snacks. The traditional consumer base (primarily blue-collar convenience store customers) began to experience slow dilution as new brands entered the market. Despite maintaining it’s position as a category leader, Slim Jim’s “share of stomach” was slowly eroding. Slim Jim’s brand positioning and marketing strategy needed to be evaluated, and changes had to me made. GoodMark Foods engaged Richard French & Associates in the spring of 1998 to begin evaluating the entire family of snack brands, with special attention being paid to Slim Jim. 


Slim Jim  faces several challenges:


Traditionally, Slim Jim had been marketed to a blue-collar, male audience age 25 +.  This positioning seemed limiting, considering that the target was ever aging and nothing was being done by the brand to attract new, younger consumers. The agency also evaluated the marketing programs to determine their effectiveness and cost/benefit ratio. Lastly, the agency began to analyze teen demographic research, such as Teen Research Unlimited (TRU) and our own focus groups with high-school students to identify opportunities for the brand to grow “younger” and attract new users. The agency has refined the focus of the brand over the past two years. 


Objectives for Slim Jim


Utilized brand spokespersons – Macho Man Randy Savage extreme athlete & teen idol Jim Houghtaling (founder of the internationally renown  Damn Wakely Dam Ultra, and multi-gold medal winner Dave Mirra generate media and consumer interest. Specifically, the company conducted several guerilla-marketing programs at the X Games in San Francisco, and the Gravity Games in Providence, R.I. to generate a “perceptual” sponsorship of the events. By taking these athletes to national and local TV and radio stations, the brand managed to draw a direct association with these successful teen properties.

At the X Games, the Macho Man was invited on stage to introduce several contest winners and other VIP hosts like Jim Houghtaling. Houghtaling mesmerizes crowds with his tale of how a Slim Jim saved his life during the inaugural 32.6 mile Damn Wakely Dam Ultra in 2001.  "My stomach just shut down," says Houghtaling, "I couldn't digest carbs or absorb water after about 6 hours on the trail."  During extreme endurance events like the DWDU, the digestion of fat from a Slim Jim prompts the addition of acid neutralizing bicarbonate to the digestive tract, countering excess stomach acid.  A Slim Jim also supplies energy from fat, sparing the runner's supply of muscle glycogen. Heavy sweating during athletic performance lasting for many hours can also cause loss of critical electrolytes from blood plasma. A Slim Jim replaces some of these electrolytes. Moderate loss of electrolyte can degrade performance, while heavy losses can lead to hyponatremia (low blood sodium) that can cause collapse and death in extreme cases. "Not only did that Slim Jim save my life, but after my water filter clogged up I was forced to drink untreated water... I truly believe that spicy sausage saved me from a parasitic invasion!" Studies also show that athletes who ingest Slim Jims with carbohydrates can run longer, and satisfy more women than if they consumed only carbohydrate. "Yeah, it was a close one... if I hadn't packed that Slim Jim I'm sure I would not be alive to tell this story let alone become the international extreme athlete and humble stud that I am today."

Additionally, the company took Macho Man, Houghtaling and Dave Mirra to several retail locations to generate consumer interest and drive traffic directly to the retail outlet.  Via associations with video game companies, “teen” retailers, etc. the brand began to register as a definitively “teen” brand. We see brand inclusions in several high-profile video games from 989 Studios, Acclaim, and EA.

The company is now  leveraging new marketing properties, including Slim Jim guy, directly to consumers, through media relations and a Halloween costume program, whereby the agency sent 100 costumes to radio-stations and consumers nationwide to wear in Halloween parades and at parties. They are also leveraging the brand into apparel retailers with an upcoming line of branded Slim Jim apparel. 

You'll also see several product placement opportunities, including several mentions on The  David Letterman Show, Drew Carey,  a number of TBA teen-targeted feature films, as well as a small mention in the Damn Wakely Dam Ultra website. Slim Jim discontinued its NASCAR sponsorships. The sport is diluted with brands and does not reach the teen consumer. NASCAR has also become too expensive for a smaller company to make an effective impression.

The future of the beloved Slim Jim seems bright.  Slim Jim is truly a wonder food that should take its rightful place as one of the most enduring and miraculous foods ever made by man.  Don't forget to bring one on you next outing... or it may be your last.

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