Event Marketing: The Martha White Story

The following is an except from Kevin Janiga’s new book.

– Chapter 5 –

In 1899, Richard Lindsey named his company’s finest flour for his three-year-old daughter. Since then, Martha White Foods has been producing quality grain-based products, including flour, corn meal, grits and baking mixes. After Richard Lindsey made his famous business decision, Royal Flour Mill continued providing flour and corn meal to the Nashville area. Then, in 1941, Royal Flour Mill was purchased by a Tennessee family who had sold their farm to invest in the flour business.

When Cohen E. Williams acquired Lindsey’s mill, he had no idea of the legacy he was initiating. The Williams family coined the slogan “Goodness Gracious, It’s Good!™” in 1945, a phrase that for many years was synonymous with Martha White and its products.

In the early years of the company, Martha White relied on country music, an important part of its hometown of Nashville, to convey its advertising message. Knowing their customers liked country music nearly as much as they liked biscuits and cornbread, Martha White’s first advertising aired in the 1940’s with their sponsorship of the 5:45 a.m. radio show – “Martha White Biscuit and Cornbread Time” – on Nashville’s WSM radio. The advertising was expanded in 1948 to include sponsorship of the Grand Ole Opry, where Martha White remains today as the show’s longest continuing sponsor.

Cohen E. Williams further leveraged Martha Whites ties to Country and Bluegrass music by sponsoring Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, an up and coming bluegrass music duo in the 1950’s. Cohen developed a brilliant event marketing program to help expand Martha White’s distribution base while bringing attention to the brand. He developed a “barn storming” tour with Flatt & Scruggs going around towns in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas doing free concerts.

Flatt & Scruggs - Martha White Flour Theme Song

Martha White salesman would make sales calls on local grocery retailers in these towns several weeks prior to Flatt & Scruggs concert appearances. If the grocer was willing to stock Martha White flour, corn meal, and baking mixes, they would receive dozens of complimentary tickets to the Flatt & Scruggs concert in their home town. These tickets could be given to customers or used by the grocer’s family & friends. These barn storming tours created tremendous awareness and trial for the Martha White brand, while providing great incentive for grocery retailers to stock the brand in their stores. Flatt & Scruggs even wrote a Bluegrass song in honor of the brand called “Martha White Theme”. The lyrics are as follows:

Now you bake right (uh-huh) with Martha White (yes, ma’am)
Goodness gracious, good and light, Martha White

For the finest biscuits, cakes and pies,
Get Martha White self-rising flour
The one all purpose flour,
Martha White self-rising flour’s
Got Hot Rise

For the finest cornbread you can bake,
Get Martha White self-rising meal
The one all purpose meal
Martha White self-rising meal
For goodness’ sake

Flatt & Scruggs would go on to become one of the most popular Bluegrass bands of all time, writing and performing the theme to the ‘Beverley Hillbillies” TV show and making numerous appearances at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

As a result of the Grand Ole Opry advertising as well as the Flatt & Scruggs barn storming tour, the Martha White brand popularity exploded. In addition, a powerful new secret ingredient—”Hot Rize®” was introduced, which brought convenience to the kitchen and changed home baking forever. Martha White followed this introduction in the early 1960s with the first real convenience mix—Bix Mix—which invited homemakers to make “the world’s best biscuits” by just adding water. Martha White continued to pioneer convenience in a pouch with the 1970s introduction of fruit muffins and, in the 1980s, added brownies to the line.

Many regional CPG brands like Martha White enjoyed tremendous growth spurts supported by strong grass roots marketing and affiliation with particular events. Rock City, a famous tourist attraction near Chattanooga, Tennessee got its first major exposure by offering to repaint farmers barns. In return for painting the barns, the farmers agreed to let them paint “See Rock City” on the roof and sides of the barns. Most of these barns had prime locations next to U.S. Highways and later Interstate highways. Many of these “See Rock City” barns are still in existence today.

Key Points to Remember

  • Event marketing and sponsorships are great vehicles to promote your brand and differentiate it from your competitors.
  • Select events and activities that your best prospects have a strong affinity to. For example, Bluegrass music is very popular in the South where Martha White flour & corn meal were most likely to be bought.
  • Activate your event marketing or sponsorship at retail. Use the event to drive merchandising and distribution as well as create trial.
  • Event marketing works best when there is long term commitment to the event (e.g. Pillsbury Bake-Off, Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest).

Integrate the event sponsorship into other elements of your marketing mix like packaging, point of sale, advertising, and consumer promotion.

2018-12-27T13:41:40-05:00September 10th, 2015|Categories: All, Blog|

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