Puck’s Housewares Masterpiece1 Mar, 2014 By: Thomas Haire Response
Bringing the Wolfgang Puck Pressure Oven to market took just the right mix of product patience and campaign expertise — along with a full serving of the celebrity chef himself.
“It’s always exciting to bring something new to market, especially at something like the Housewares Show,” says renowned chef Wolfgang Puck of his new eponymous Pressure Oven, which made its debut in a direct response television and Web campaign in January. “Nobody has ever seen it — and when you tell people you can cook a turkey in less than an hour, where normally its 15-20 minutes a pound, they’ll be shocked.”
Perhaps they will — but during the photo shoot and interview for this Response cover feature last month, those on hand saw the new Wolfgang Puck Pressure Oven cook — and brown — a 14-pound turkey in 55 minutes. After two-and-a-half years of research and development in a collaborative effort by KitchenTek — a partnership between Direct Holdings Global (formerly Time-Life) and Wolfgang Puck Appliances (WP) — the team behind it says the product is the first countertop pressure oven that “toasts, roasts, bakes, broils, re-heats and rotisseries up to 70-percent faster than a traditional oven.”
“This product had to be a leap forward for us to go in and compete in this market,” says Tim Pearson, senior vice president of lifestyle marketing at Direct Holdings Global (DHG). “We wanted to set a new standard for coming to market with a housewares product — and this is a transformative technology. We have one patent, with multiple patents pending, and the most recognizable chef in the world putting his name behind it.”
Such a powerful combination put KitchenTek in an enviable position when it came to creating a campaign for the new product — but it also put the pressure on, as the campaign’s look and feel had to have just the right amount of personality and professionalism to live up to those standards.
“There are a lot of good creative shops in this business,” Pearson says. “But we needed someone who could sync branding with selling, as well as working with one of the biggest chefs in the world — one that was able to roll with all those punches and adapt all the creative inputs into something that sells.”
Mixing the Ingredients
Indeed, the backgrounds and personalities of those involved in this project are diverse. Start with Puck, who moved to Los Angeles in 1975, after beginning his cooking career under his mother in his native Austria, before leaving for France in his teens. Puck’s first notice in the U.S. came for his work at Ma Maison, one of Hollywood’s “It” restaurants in the late 1970s.
But when Puck opened Spago on the north side of Sunset Boulevard in 1982, that’s when his legend began to soar. The only chef to be honored twice with the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Chef of the Year, Puck’s empire has grown to nearly three-dozen restaurants worldwide, plus a number of Wolfgang Puck Express locations throughout North America.
Puck expanded into branded kitchenware in the 1990s and has spent the past 15 years as one of HSN’s most successful product demonstrators. His success in the home shopping space, however, never pushed him to look at traditional direct response television until the Wolfgang Puck Pressure Oven came along.
Pearson, who joined DHG/Time-Life in 2011, has long been a successful product marketer in the DR world, including stints with Polygram, Sony Music (where he helped launch the uber-successful NOW! CD music series) and GAIAM.
“I was brought in to help lead a diversification for the company,” Pearson says. “We wanted to diversify outside of Time-Life’s successful CD and DVD business into more traditional markets — kitchen, beauty and the like. I had first seen a prototype of this product when I was at GAIAM, but it didn’t fit the strategy there.”
Six months later, Pearson spoke with Andy Greenberg, who was consulting at Time-Life, and connected him to the product’s inventor. “At the time, this product was exactly what it is now in one key way — an exponential leap forward in technology,” he says.
‘Over My Dead Body!’
Shortly thereafter, Pearson joined the company as it was teaming up with Florida-based Wolfgang Puck Appliances to create KitchenTek to build and market this new product. “I became a part of the project because of my core strengths — developing the brand and planning the marketing campaign, media, fulfillment and Web presence.”
But the product was still two years away from coming to fruition. Why?
“The oven has several features that delayed the launch because Puck wanted it to be perfect,” Pearson says. “He’s not focused on speed to market or the arms race in the kitchen category. To him, this product must do one thing: make the food taste great.”
“Throughout my career, we’ve always talked about the ‘perfect roasted chicken,’” Puck says. “In the restaurant, if we tell them it’s going to take an hour, even the word ‘hour’ is too long. So, if we could find a way for someone at home to roast a chicken faster, it would be great. When I saw this product, I knew it might work.”
The product, as released, is an energy-efficient electric appliance that combines the speed and flavor-enhancing ability of a pressure cooker with the ease and versatility of an oven. Meats stay crispy on the outside and moist and juicy inside, while baked goods rise beautifully. The Puck Oven is called a replacement for the microwave, pressure cooker, toaster and convection oven by its marketing team.
Puck says the process took a while for various reasons — “sealing the pressure cooker was complicated, and then to get it to brown the meat as an oven was even more so” — but agrees that his exacting standards were the biggest reason.
“I told them, ‘We won’t release it if it’s not the way I like it,” Puck recalls. “More than a year ago, they told me they were ready to release it and I told them, ‘Over my dead body!’ Now, you can cook in it just the way I imagined. You can brown in it. It’s better than any tabletop or countertop oven at, generally, the same price as the current top ones on the market.”
This Little Oven Goes to Market
That diligence paid off beginning with the Puck Oven’s run on HSN last May. “We sold 1,500 units in 20 minutes — when we thought it would take a week — and we’ve been on six times since. It’s one of the largest kitchen electrics successes in HSN history,” Pearson says.
The idea of bowing on HSN — and through a relatively quiet website launch in August — was to “allow time for tweaks and get consumers to understand that the product is safe and efficient,” Pearson says. At the same time, early adopters in the food tech space began to rave about the Puck Oven.
“We thought this would be a good product to transition from home shopping to the direct response space because it really is a ‘first,’” Puck says. “There’s no product like it in the whole wide world! That’s why we decided to say, ‘Okay, let’s give it a shot in an infomercial.’ We want to try to broaden our audience for this product.”
The KitchenTek team then turned to brand new media (BNM) U.S. and Patrick Raymond, the company’s executive vice president and creative director, to build the DRTV campaign. Raymond, who had done some work on the Sharper Image Super Wave Oven, was approached by DHG’s Cindy Minionis to work on the project.
“As we know in the business, things can take a couple years, so as we were waiting on this product, we had some success working on a beauty project with their team. It helped develop the relationship so that when this product was ready, we jumped right in,” he says.
Raymond adds that his main points of contact with DHG while developing the campaign were Pearson and MaryAnne Shvodian. “The process started way before the shoot,” he recalls. “I worked with MaryAnne on nearly a daily basis, developing a strategy to push out to both TV and the Web.”
Both Pearson and Raymond mention testing the product beyond HSN. “We did focus groups before we went on-air,” Pearson says. “We were told that the product got the highest dial tests ever in the kitchen category among those 45 or older.”
Raymond’s expertise in branded entertainment — his background includes developing and directing TV shows for HGTV and Food Network, including one with Puck about 15 years ago — was a draw for the KitchenTek team.
“Every part of the process — here’s the script, here’s the food, here’s the kitchen set — Raymond’s team was there to walk Puck through the process,” Pearson says. “That said, Wolfgang and his catering team cooked all the food on the set using the Puck Oven. And Patrick worked perfectly with them, making sure we captured everything on film that we needed. If you let Wolfgang be Wolfgang, his personality comes through — and Patrick understands that.”
The experience working with Puck in the late 1990s helped Raymond. “I remembered how he was then, so I had a little bit of an understanding what to expect with him this time around,” Raymond says.
And Puck’s experience as an HSN presenter paid off as well. “To me, filming the infomercial was just like doing a whole day at HSN — except it was doing the same thing instead of doing 10 different things,” Puck says.
Raymond adds, “I think his HSN presentation experience means that he was able put his arms around this and understand how it works. He has integrity. In the presentation, that comes off. It’s not a scripted piece of material. It’s outlined points — that he’s involved with developing — that are then presented. It’s how he works and it’s an authentic way to work. Authenticity, a great product and an amazing talent like him — you’ve got gold when you have all three.”
After offer testing in media in early 2014, Pearson believes the product is poised for a successful campaign. “Several weeks of offer testing were positive,” he contends. “So we raised the media to put it under a ‘stress test.’ The final plans are now being put into place for a campaign that builds media through the spring and summer and then leads into a strong Q4 push in retail and on TV.”
However, everybody involved is clear to state that the Puck Oven will not be just a one-of-a-kind DRTV product.
“This is the first model,” Puck says. “We might do some other models after this one — maybe a bigger version. And, hopefully, we do some other things with KitchenTek and their technology.”
Pearson agrees, adding, “We’re looking to create retail marketing relationships — there will be a number of SKUs in this line. The technology is patented and — to be honest in a world full of knockoffs — not easy to copy. There are too many nuances to a pressure cooker/oven combo. On the other side of the equation, the DR community is about to find out that there are few people like Wolfgang in this category.”
To that end, part of Raymond’s goal in shooting the show was to have expansive amounts of quality video content featuring Puck working with the oven. “I went into it knowing that we were shooting content as content — not as a 28:30 infomercial or a two-minute spot,” he says. “We shoot for content that we can then leverage. We try to menu it out for clients to say this is the list of things that are possible, and you can decide what you want and don’t want. What Wolfgang did on the set in just cooking the food — you leverage those whole recipes content that can live on any kind of branded entertainment outlet: food destinations online or, really, any Web environments that KitchenTek or Wolfgang himself want to use them. You’re utilizing your content to its utmost potential.”
Pearson, again, agrees. “We shot so much footage of food, testimonials, stunts — there are a lot of places we can go with the creative when we release future generations. This content will be with us throughout the product’s life,” he says.
However, the KitchenTek team knows that the key to the Puck Oven’s success and growth into those “future generations” still lies with the passion of its namesake. While he enjoys talking about the campaign and his partners, he just can’t keep himself from slipping back into talking about the product itself.
“KitchenTek listened. The factory in China listened. Everybody listened,” Puck says of the key to building the product and campaign. “Everybody was on the same wavelength that if we’re going to do it, we have to do it right. It’s something new. Just like any other oven, you need a little experience. Maybe one day, you put something in it and it’s perfect. But maybe the next day, you might cook it too much because you’re worried. But once somebody gets a little experience with it, it becomes a no-brainer. With the Puck Oven, you don’t have to baste, you don’t have to do anything.”