Professional wrestling and the Slim Jim meat-snacks brand are back in the ring together, having agreed to a marketing rematch nearly 20 years after their tag-team debut. That’s right, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), has teamed with ConAgra, the maker of Slim Jim, to market the company’s spicy meat snacks, beef jerky and other products to one of the WWE’s most prevalent viewer groups and fans, teenage boys.

Remember WWF star Randy “Macho Man” Savage touting Slim Jim back in the 1990s in TV spots when the brand was owned by GoodMark Foods? Savage’s catch phrase in the ads, spoken in his trademark raspy voice, was, “Snap into a Slim Jim, oooooh yeah!” And, ooooh yeah, people loved the spots and Slim Jim’s sales increased. However, the WWF-Slim Jim partnership ran its course, as did Savage’s wrestling career.

But last February, WWE and Slim Jim announced a tag-team reunion. A press release described the new “integrated promotional deal” and proclaimed Slim Jim the “Official Meat Snack of WWE,” in addition to being the presenting sponsor of WWE’s Wrestlemania XXVI held in April and SummerSlam event held in August. Also as part of the deal, WWE superstar Edge was named as Slim Jim’s pitchman.

The one-year deal surrounds Slim Jim’s ���Spicy Side” campaign, which portrays what happens when consumers’ alter egos encounter the snap of the bold and spicy flavor of a Slim Jim. The deal features numerous promotional activities involving WWE’s television programming, WWE.com  , live events and publications throughout the year.

Plant accident delays promotion
The relationship between the two entities actually began in the spring of 2009, but the Slim Jim plant explosion in June 2009 put the promotion on hold after only eight weeks. The current TV commercial with Edge was actually filmed in June 2009.

ConAgra shut down its marketing of the product after the plant explosion, which killed three people, because of a product shortage. It was the only Slim Jim plant that manufactured individual snack sticks. Another plant manufactured Slim Jim kippered products, but the snack sticks are the brand’s No. 1 seller.

The accident and subsequent closure led to lost sales because there were fewer products on store shelves. But the plant has since been repaired and has been up and running for several months and sales are on the upswing, says Chris Sinta, director of sponsorships for ConAgra.

“We’re excited by the way retailers and consumers have reacted to the brand engagement and have welcomed us back to the landscape,” Sinta says. “The WWE is a fantastic partner, and we look forward to doing bigger and better things with them.”

Sinta says ConAgra was looking for “frequency and depth of awareness” in a partnership.

“We felt the WWE was the best partner for us to do that and to build a 360-degree marketing program,” Sinta adds, noting that ConAgra and the WWE will market Slim Jim through TV and digital media programming in addition to consumer promotion, mobile marketing and retail display.

Brian Kalinowski, executive vice president of digital media for the Stamford, Conn.-based WWE, says he’s excited to work with “a group of cuttingedge marketing folks” from ConAgra.

“We get to partner with one of the premier food companies and foodbrand developers and marketers in the world with ConAgra,” Kalinowski says.

Gaining the “Edge”
Things have changed at the WWE since the Macho Man began biting into Slim Jims. For starters, today’s WWE is more family oriented than the old WWF.

“The WWE product has grown and matured, and we’re reaching a new sensibility as far as the message we want to portray to our audience,” Kalinowski says. “And I’m sure that ConAgra’s and Slim Jim’s marketing approach to its audience has also changed in that time.”

The WWF and Slim Jim relationship was solid the first time around. So why did the two entities part ways?

“I think, like in agriculture, sometimes you let the fields rest before you replant,” Kalinowski says. “The folks at ConAgra have certainly modified and augmented their product lines with Slim Jim. And we’ve augmented and modified our product. And the timing is perfect for us to get back together to reintroduce our collective audience to this product.”

Kalinowski says a few key variables drove the organization’s interest in realigning with Slim Jim. First, the WWE likes Slim Jim’s “spicy-side” focus. Second, Slim Jim’s approach matched up well with the WWE’s “mega-manliness” approach.

This time around, it’s Edge promoting Slim Jim. The popular wrestler is making personal appearances and hosting contests on behalf of Slim Jim. A new “Spicy Side” commercial featuring Edge is showing on USA Network and MyNetworkTV during weekly broadcasts of “Monday Night Raw” and “Friday Night SmackDown,” as well as online at SpicySide.com   and WWE.com .

“We’ve put together some commercial spots and some online spots that show there’s really a great synergy between the Slim Jim brand and the WWE brand,” Kalinowski says.

ConAgra’s target market is teenage boys aged 12 to 17. Within that group, the major target is boys 12 to 15 years old.

“We believe that WWE is the perfect partner for us in terms of hitting that target market,” Sinta says.

WWE broadcasts a live and wellrated program on Monday nights, in which ConAgra advertises. WWE also offers taped programs on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday nights, in which Slim Jim is advertised.

“We’re hitting about 16 million people every week,” Sinta says.

Edge, who was raised by his mother, wanted to be a wrestling star since he was about 10. Edge embodies every component of the message that ConAgra wants to deliver with Slim Jim, Sinta says.

The message to kids, Sinta says, is that “Slim Jim helps them with their spicy sides and makes them feel mega-manly, which is how we like to phrase it.”

The “spicy side” campaign demonstrates the constructive energy one’s alter ego may experience following the “rip-and-tear eating experience of Slim Jim,” Sinta says.

“An 85-pound kid can feel like he weighs 150 pounds,” he adds.

Says Kalinowski: “The entire essence of the mega-manliness campaign and the spicy side is to break out of your mold. Edge exemplifies that quality.”

Garnering attention
One of Slim Jim’s smaller-size competitors and peers is nothing but impressed with Slim Jim’s marketing campaign through the WWE.

Citing WWE’s success on television and selling out arenas throughout the country, Mike Weaver, co- (Photo courtesy of Slim Jim and WWE) owner of Weaver Meats in Painesville, Ohio, says Slim Jim teaming with the WWE is a winning marketing strategy.

“To market your product to that type of audience is outstanding,” says Weaver, whose company makes its own line of beef jerky and meat snack sticks, including several private-label products, including Pacific Mountain Farms, Wild Ride Cowboy Strips and Chubby Checker Snacks, sold throughout the United States. “Then to target it toward the teenage boys is a no brainer from a marketing standpoint. These boys follow the wrestlers, and if Slim Jim is endorsed or marketed in conjunction with the WWE, it draws them to buy their product.”

Sinta didn’t work on the Slim Jim brand in the days of Macho Man Savage, but he’s glad to be working on it in the era of Edge. ConAgra prefers a slightly more refined WWE to the WWF, because the former is more family-centric, Sinta says.

That said, Sinta is impressed with the professional wrestling organization’s staying power.

“It’s a brand that has been around for 30 years,” Sinta says. “It reinvented itself and got better. The WWE has had the No. 1-rated cable show on Monday night now for about 10 years.”

Considering Slim Jim’s solid brand equity, the two entities make for one formidable tag-team.

Larry Aylward is a free-lance writer from Cleveland.