Marketing and Good Old SPAM

What SPAM Can Teach Us About Marketing

Finding it hard to imagine what marketing lessons you can gain from a 75 year old can of meat?  Hang on and I’ll show you.  SPAM

First, let’s spend a little time getting familiar with SPAM® for those who may not have heard of the stuff.  Even if you are familiar, perhaps a closet SPAM eater, you may find some of these facts interesting.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about unwanted emails in your inbox.  No, I’m talking about that tasty canned meat treat that still has shelf space in grocery stores and can probably be found ready-to-eat in bomb bunkers of the 60’s.

You may not know that Hormel, the manufacturer of SPAM, stamps out 122 million cans per year and will roll out its 8 billionth can in two years or so.  That is a lot of SPAM!

It was originally created in 1937 as “canned luncheon meat” or the “miracle meat” and recently celebrated its 75th birthday on July 5th.  Given its indestructible nature, SPAM was used to keep our guys in WWII going strong.  Soldiers used to refer to SPAM as the “ham that didn’t pass its physical”.  I’m not certain we want to know what it did pass.

SPAM - Miracle In A Can

SPAM - Miracle In A Can

For those of you who have never purchased or tasted SPAM, you may be surprised to learn that every 3.8 cans of SPAM are consumed every second in the U.S.  Don’t know anyone in the US who eats SPAM? That’s because the bulk on SPAM consumption is in Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines and some other islands in the Pacific.  Its popularity stems from WWII and has never waned.

And, in 1998, SPAM product packaging was donated to the Smithsonian.

So what is the secret to SPAM’s success and longevity?  The answer probably depends on  who you ask.

  • If you ask my skinny, blessed-with-a-high-metabolism husband, it is SPAM’s taste.  Sure. In a pig’s eye.
  • If you ask the people in Austin, MN where the mystery meat is manufactured 7 days a week, 24 hours a day and where the first and only SPAM museum resides, SPAM is a livelihood and a way of life to be honored.
  • Go further south to another Austin in Texas and the folks there use SPAM as an excuse to “stay weird” with the Spamarama, which is like a giant SPAM festival started in the late ’70s.  They use the stuff to make giant pig sculptures and spiced deviled eggs.  Yeck.
  • Then there are the strange hole-in-the-wall hang-outs like the one in my fair city of Portland, OR – another city that lays claim to weirdness –  Fat City Cafe, which serves SPAM as an option to other pork alternatives like bacon and sausage.  There, they say it is a “healthy” alternative – with a sodium content that would drop an elephant to their knees. They also call it “fat city” for a reason.

What about the Marketing Lessons?

I put in a call to SPAM headquarters to get the marketing secret direct from the spiced pig’s creator, but haven’t heard back. When I do, I’ll be certain to update this post.  But here is my interpretation of SPAM’s marketing secret boiled down to three ingredients.

1.  Hormel embraces the perceptions of its audience.  If the public and its consumers wants to poke fun at its product and they do, the company goes with the flow and will even facilitate the jokes.  This includes being featured by Monty Python in TV skits and in the 2004 musical Spamalot, a Holy Grail ripoff.

The company has gone so far as to introduce the product’s very first mascot earlier this year…Sir Can-A-Lot.  I can’t say he’s as funny as the Monty Python skit, but he’s a charming little SPAM mascot.

SPAM bowling shirt

SPAM bowling shirt

One will find more evidence that the company wants you to enjoy its product by offering on its website a SPAM joke book, SPAM air fresheners, a SPAM Turkey can candle, SPAM can wine charmers and the real prize, a SPAM logo emblazoned on the back of bowling shirts.  This would have made the Dude in The Big Lebowski green with envy.

2.  The product has evolved.  Unlike the creators of Twinkies, currently defunct, Hormel has injected life into SPAM by evolving with current tastes.  Over the years, it has lowered the fat and sodium content.  It has also created new flavors Hickory Smoked, bacon, Tabasco and different package formats creating more shelf facings in the grocery store.

3.  Its product promotion is grass roots.  Since its early days, Hormel has used grass root communication techniques to get the word out about its product.


  • In the ’40s The Hormel Girls traveled the country side singing the praises of this mystery meat.
  • In the ’90’s the company introduced the Best SPAM Recipe Contest at State Fairs.  Today there are 40+ states that hold these contests every year.
  • Then it sponsored a race car at NASCAR‘s Winston Classic.
  • In ’98, the company created its first website and its first “official” fan club.
  • In 2010 or so it jumped onto Twitter and Facebook to share recipes, contests and to engage their fans.  Facebook currently has over 145,000 friends of SPAM.

These three not so secret ingredients are crucial for any product or for any business that wants to be around for a long time.  Change is constant and to last, one has to be willing to adapt to changes in the marketplace, like Hormel has with SPAM.

If your business is struggling, ask yourself how you might take a page or two from a product as old as SPAM and make it work for your business.

  • What are the perceptions of your customers?
  • How might your product or service offerings evolve – bigger, smaller, different – to better meet the needs of your audience?
  • And which grass root methods can you easily employ to build awareness for your business?

I hope you enjoyed this walk through Spamville.  If you did or have any additional thoughts you’d like to share about SPAM’s marketing efforts, use the comments section below.  I’d love to hear from you.

P.S.  Best wishes to SPAM and may it survive another 75 years!


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Sheila Hibbard

Sheila Hibbard takes the fluff, hype and confusion out of marketing and social media. She provides small business owners with straight forward, no nonsense marketing guidance and techniques that produce results based on her 35 plus years in advertising, communications, research, strategic planning and social media. Author of Marketing Online Made Simple - WHO.

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