What do God and mer-men have in common? They both sell a lot of fish sticks.
The 170-year-old Gorton’s Seafood brand knows that the Lenten season is the high season for fish sales, so it’s a good time for an ad blitz.
And after four decades at the helm of the Gloucester-based company’s advertising campaign, the brand’s famous yellow slicker-clad fisherman is now cavorting with a rather odd cast of seafaring creatures: Mythical beings and social media influencers.
The brand’s marketing team says it’s an effort to lure a younger demographic as millennials increasingly turn to the frozen food aisle for meals.
Last year, in an effort to catch a new audience, the company decided to upend its traditional ads, which for years focused solely on the austere, steady-handed mascot. In an idiosyncratic ad campaign, created by the Boston firm Connelly Partners, the fisherman shared the spotlight with half-men, half-fish spokescreatures, better known as the “mer-bros.”
This year, a new mer-bros ad features the muscular beings shedding purple tears as they tout the “ridiculously fresh-tasting” quality of the fish. Another has Poseidon, the god of the sea, talking up the benefits of the brand’s “wild-caught Alaskan pollack frozen right after catch.”
And this week, Antoni Porowski, the Emmy-award winning chef who offers cooking tips to clueless men on the Netflix series Queer Eye, will also soon begin promoting Gorton’s to his 2.6 million Instagram followers.
Chris Hussey, the vice president of marketing at Gorton’s, said that the mer-bros won’t sideline its famous mascot. The fisherman has always exuded a “quiet confidence,” she said. “He knows the seas and knows what he does well, he’s not boastful but a hard-working fisherman.”
His new compadres are stepping in to do the boasting for him, she said.
So far, it’s working. The spokesbros have translated to a 6 percent increase in sales, or about 700,000 more boxes of fish sticks sold in the past year.
Gorton’s is riding a wave in American food trends. The category is making a comeback in the United States where customers bought $57 billion worth of frozen food in 2018, according to a report released last month from American Frozen Food Institute and the Food Marketing Institute.
Last year saw a 2.6 percent increase in sales, the research found, in part because millennials are “juggling families and careers, and they are heavily focused on convenience in their shopping and meal preparation.”
“One could argue that frozen meals are the original meal kit,” AFFI president Alison Bodor said in the report.
David Portalatin, food industry adviser at the market research firm NPD Group, said frozen food manufacturers “have now stepped up to provide consumers with authentic and wholesome-ingredient meals with a high level of convenience.”
Gorton’s has tried to follow suit. In the last year and a half, the company has overhauled the way it produces its signature breaded and battered fish sticks and fillets to appeal to those younger, health-conscious consumers. Instead of making fish sticks from minced seafood, they’re now producing them from whole fillets of fish that are only frozen shortly after they’re caught.
Michael Carroll, who works in marketing within the seafood industry, applauded Gorton’s attempt to lure a new audience. The bizarre ads are “what I’d expect from Legal Seafood,” he said. Gorton’s is “typically pretty conservative.”Janelle Nanos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.