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The Clunky Rebranding of Hot Pockets

By Mike Breen · November 12th, 2013 · Lost in the Supermarket
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For decades, Hot Pockets, those frozen, microwavable sandwich-like products found in practically every grocery and convenience store nationwide, led a fairly unspectacular existence. With the main selling points being that they are cheap, quick and easy, the customer base consisted of very busy people living a “go, go, go!” lifestyle (like parents and students) and very lazy people who can’t be bothered to think about what they’re eating (like parents and students, plus drunk people and stoners). Hot Pockets TV commercials seemed unnecessary because, like Milwaukee’s Best or White Castle, “cheap, quick and easy” is enough. 

Sometime in the ’00s, a routine by comedian Jim Gaffigan about Hot Pockets became very popular. Gaffigan milked tons of material out of the product’s dismal place in the food-product chain, with riffs like, “There is the vegetarian Hot Pocket for those of us who don’t want to eat meat, but would still like diarrhea.”

It didn’t so much change people’s perspective about the sad awfulness of Hot Pockets; it merely put universal feelings about the product into funny, stinging words. 

Today, the company is clearly trying to change that public perception. For its 30th anniversary this past summer, the company launched a reintroduction campaign. The results have been an awkward but comically entertaining “rebranding” mission. 

Time magazine revealed that the new-look Pockets were targeting “millennials,” young people whose ages apparently range from high-school kids through early thirtysomethings. The company studied young people and found them to have quite refined taste. Many of them were proclaimed “foodies” in search of more sophisticated food options. 

What else do millennials like? The Internet and ridiculous web videos.

The company is very active on social media, but it’s their “viral video” wannabe clips that show Hot Pockets is going “all in” in its quest for millennial bucks. 

First there was “Pocket Like It’s Hot,” a Snoop Dogg hit with new Hot Pocket-centric lyrics rapped by the spokesperson/stoner icon himself. The company went for the viral gold again more recently with “You Got What I Eat,” again featuring Snoop, rapping Hot Pocket lyrics to the tune of Biz Markie’s novelty hit, “Just a Friend.” Web-fave/model Kate Upton is shoehorned into the clip, along with some pot references and a nonsensical “battle of Hot Pockets’ greatest qualities,” with people arguing for either the “hot, buttery crust” or the “premium meats.” It reeks of “trying too hard.” 

Hot Pockets’ new television commercials are only slightly less unusual than the web ones. The slow motion ads show “buttery, seasoned” crust being pulled from the oven and the top-shelf meats “Angus Beef” and “Hickory Ham” being lovingly sliced by chefs. “Then,” the ad says, as a guy with a welding mask and flamethrower unleashes a flurry of fire, “we add hot.” That’s not referring to a spice, but rather that one must heat them up

Technically, aren’t we adding hot? 

The food’s slogan is even “Irresistibly Hot,” which seems like a weird thing to spotlight. The emphasis on extreme temperature might be more of a reminder that consumers should let them cool, because the cheesy insides are scalding straight out of the microwave. That part of the old-guard Hot Pockets remains, but has the quality really improved? 

After sampling a few bites from four newer offerings — Garlic Chicken White Pizza (with whole grain crust) and Roasted Chicken with Bacon & Cheese Lean Pockets (the company’s “healthier” products) and Chicken, Broccoli & Cheddar (on croissant crust) and Steak & Cheddar (with crispy, buttery seasoned crust) — I say, “Not really.” 

There is something about that piping hot cheese filling that overwhelms all of the other ingredients, combining them into a gooey, congealed mush that makes picking out the classy upgrades difficult. While I was aware of whether I was eating chicken or beef and there were small spice and textural variances, there really isn’t much difference from one Hot Pocket to the next. Still.

It’s been several years since I last had a Hot Pocket, but I’m certain the experience of eating them was identical. (I will say my stomach was slightly less upset after eating them this time.) The “premium” ingredients give Hot Pockets good ammo for marketing, but they haven’t changed into something actually crave-worthy. 

Maybe the weird ads will bring in the millennials, but unless one of their distinguishing qualities is a lack of taste buds, it’s hard to imagine Hot Pockets becoming a hip foodie trend any time soon. 



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