Lo-res_1525R-88496-SWhen companies introduce new products, they often are responding to consumer demands as they have emerged over time, such that the requests develop, expand, and only become clear over the course of several years. Or maybe they have spent years of agonizing research, working with engineers and developers, to innovate something totally new and then even more years to perfect it. But every once in a while, a bunch of company representatives are riding a train together, and someone says, “Hey, what if…” and the next thing you know, a brand new product is ready for production in just a few months.

Such eureka moments are rare, but as the story of Reese’s Pieces Peanut Butter Cups shows, they can happen, and they can be magical. A team of Reese’s employees literally was taking a train home from a December meeting one day when someone asked, “Could we put Reese’s Pieces in Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups?” Reports from people who were there say that the entire team knew at that very moment that they had a great idea. Even before disembarking the train, they had e-mailed the research and development team to find out of it was physically feasible. Within a week, a plant in Hershey, Pennsylvania, was doing a test run. And within six weeks, the company had produced an entire production run.

Even with all the excitement over the innovation, the marketing plan remained somewhat conventional. Reese’s thought it would first introduce the idea at an annual confectioners’ convention in late May, then slowly roll the products out onto retail shelves toward the end of summer. The broad, national advertising campaign for consumers then was slated to begin in September, after the products were in plenty of stores across the nation.

But just like everything else with this innovation, a conventional plan was way too slow. Somehow, word leaked in April, and a candy blogger broke the exciting news that candy fans might soon have a way to combine two of their favorites in one package. Faced with constant requests for confirmation, Reese’s decided to have a little fun with the reveal. It created playful teaser advertising on its Twitter feed, showing a Peanut Butter Cup as a piñata that, when broken, rained down Reese’s Pieces. Another short video tweet, timed to coincide with Mother’s Day, had a cartoon Peanut Butter Cup tell little Pieces, “You’re so cute, I could eat you up,” to which the little Pieces responded, “Aw Mom, not again.”

Both teasers also offered the hashtag #Cupfusion, which Reese’s purposefully employed to signal both the confusion surrounding the potential new product and the idea that the product would fuse two popular candies. A new “Cupmoji” also has entered the discussion—a Peanut Butter Cup with Pieces for eyes.

The excitement and anticipation thus are growing to a fever pitch. Fans keep asking for updates, and the person in charge of samples says she has been inundated with requests. When the candies finally do appear in stores—less than a year after the very idea was hatched—it might seem to fans like they have waited forever for something they never knew they needed so badly.

Discussion Questions

  1. Describe how Reese’s developed this new product. How is it similar to the traditional process described in the book? How is it different?
  2. What are your predictions about the likely success of this new product?

Source: Jessica Wohl, “Behind the Speedy Reese’s Pieces Peanut Butter Cups Debut,” Advertising Age, May 17, 2016.