Hellman's enlists chef Mario Batali for the mayo brand's latest marketing campaign

NEW YORK, N.Y. – A lot changes in 100 years, but the key to Hellmann’s success may be that not much has changed for the mayonnaise.

To celebrate Hellman’s centennial birthday, owner Unilever is launching a marketing campaign to drum up attention for the country’s top-selling mayonnaise, whose formula remains almost the same as it was a century ago. Media spending is undisclosed, but it’s the largest ever campaign for the brand.

Unilever, a Dutch consumer goods company with brands ranging from Dove soaps to Magnum ice cream, has dubbed the campaign “Bringing the best together.” It includes TV, print and digital ads, a Facebook page and YouTube videos featuring chef Mario Batali cooking up Hellmann’s recipes, a smartphone app and a September event that will include the world’s largest picnic table.

“It’s part of the culinary heritage of America,” said Brian Orlando, Hellmann’s senior marketing director, on the campaign. “After 100 years we decided it was worth going out and revisiting this brand and what it is today.”

While it may seem as American as Fourth of July picnics, mayonnaise originated in France in the 1700s, when a chef seeking to make a creamy sauce combined oil and egg yolks. People created their own mayonnaise for centuries, whipping up oil, vinegar and eggs. Hellmann’s got its start when a German immigrant, Richard Hellmann, began selling his wife’s version at his deli in New York in 1905. The company changed hands several times and is now owned by Unilever, which bought it in 2000.

Today, Americans spend $1.87 billion on mayonnaise each year, with Hellmann’s capturing a 31.1 per cent share of that, according to research firm Euromonitor International. That jumps to 45.5 per cent if you include the Best Foods brand. Kraft Mayo holds a 23.8 per cent share, while Kraft’s Miracle Whip has 15.6 per cent of the market.

Hellmann’s major advantage is that it was first, said John Stanton, a professor of food marketing at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Kraft’s Miracle Whip, which, according to FDA regulations, isn’t technically mayonnaise because it doesn’t contain enough vegetable oil, was introduced in the 1930s. Kraft Mayo wasn’t launched until 1988.

Hellmann’s has tried to diversify its product over the years, introducing fat- and cholesterol-free versions, adding lime juice in 2002 to appeal to Latin Americans, and adding flavours like Mediterranean Garlic, Spicy Buffalo and Southwestern Ranch. But the most popular version by far is the classic version, which consumers prefer because of its simplicity, Stanton said.

Marketing has helped the brand name’s popularity as well, with the well-known ad slogan “Bring out the Hellman’s and bring out the best” coined in 1987.

For the latest campaign, Hellmann’s enlisted chef Mario Batali to come up with new twists on Hellmann’s recipes. “We went through 10 decades of recipes,” said Batali. He chose 30 recipes for Hellman’s Facebook page and smartphone app, about half classic recipes and half new ones. His favourites are Chipotle deviled eggs and a dressing for grilled corn on the cob.

TV ads, which start on May 20, show Richard Hellmann’s original deli and will run throughout the summer. Hellmann’s is also hosting an event on Labor Day weekend in New York with what the company says will be the world’s longest picnic table.