From Trash to Treasure: How Sweethearts Turned a Manufacturing Mistake into a Viral Campaign

Sweethearts’ notoriously chalky candies, dubbed “Conversation Hearts,” have been a Valentine’s Day staple since their invention in 1902. While not known for being the tastiest of Valentine’s treats, the candy hearts have been beloved by generations for the cheeky sayings they feature, which have changed over the years to keep the phrases “hip,” as the cool kids say. 

Now Spangler Candy Company has kicked the trendiness up a notch by appealing to the youths with a new variation: Sweethearts Situationships.

Now what the #@&! is a situationship?!

Great question! Many Gen Zers are trying to answer that for themselves. A finalist for “Word of the Year 2023,” the scholars at the Oxford Dictionary provide this attempt to define the undefinable: a situationship is “a romantic or sexual relationship that is not considered to be formal or established.”

The dating app more well known for all things but dating, Tinder, provides an explanation: “The undefined and noncommittal situationship continues to evolve as people are less concerned about relationship outcomes and more interested in enjoying the process.”

Ok but… what does this have to do with brand?

Tombras was the talented ad agency that approached and sweet-talked Spangler Candy Company into a campaign that swooned millions of young Millennials and Gen Zers. They were able to turn blurry, hard to read, misprinted candies from waste into a product catered specifically to, you guessed it, those with a relationship status that is blurry and hard to read.

Screenshot taken from Sweethearts' Instagram Feed

Together, Sweethearts and Tombras were able to earn viral acclaim with their campaign, amassing 1.6 million views on their original video posted to TikTok. The supply of Sweethearts Situationships sold out in just a day… twice. Both the original launch and the second run were claimed in mere hours, and Sweethearts found their way into the hearts of a whole new generation of consumers.

Sweethearts even provided free downloadable Valentines cards as part of the campaign.

So what can we learn from this?

Here are a few actionable takeaways:

Leverage brand partnerships to bring fresh energy to older, tired brands. 

Sweethearts’ resurgence into popular culture began in 2022 through collaborations with Crocs and Fruit Loops. This decision allowed Sweethearts to enter new markets and customer segments, as well as capitalize on nostalgia and reintroduce themselves to fans from childhood. Sometimes all an old brand needs is a modern approach to build new momentum, not too dissimilar to what Stanley did recently, albeit without leveraging cobranding.

Find ways to turn mistakes and waste into marketing fun.

Through this campaign, not only did Sweethearts capture the attention of a younger audience, but they also made a profit off of an otherwise unusable product. They turned candies that would otherwise not meet quality assurance due to their illegibility and found a way to use some creative marketing to tap into an otherwise forgotten Valentine’s consumer group. 

Maintain cultural relevance, play into trends and join in on the conversation. 

One of the most effective ways to stay relevant in the modern mediascape is to embrace authenticity and fun. The buying power of younger generations is undervalued and unappreciated. If you’re waiting to approach young Millennials and Gen Z when you need them, you’re already behind. The quickest way to get these younger audiences invested into your brand is to invest in them. Meet them on their turf, in their words and show them you’re more than a logo or a corporate conglomerate. Take care to remind consumers whenever you engage with them that behind the brand, you’re still people who care. 

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