AdForum Exclusive: 5 Questions for Johnsonville's Senior Director of Marketing, Ryan Pociask

by James Thompson

Johnsonville Sausages and Droga5 recently teamed up with Uber to launch a deliciously inventive but uniquely old-school campaign that features the best of every brand involved—and grandmas. This time, instead of focusing on the agency side of the business, AdForum’s James Thompson reached out to Johnsonville to see how the creative process worked from the brand’s perspective. 

AdForum: The Johnsonville brand is about flavorful sausage, the importance of family, and how sharing meals together enhances our lives and relationships. What about the people and creative culture at Droga5 made it the agency of choice to represent the Johnsonville brand?

Ryan Pociask: Johnsonville went into their agency search with the intention of finding the best creative partner they could, regardless of agency type, size or location. Some thought Droga5 was a bit of strange fit for a brand like Johnsonville given Droga5’s NY location and high profile, and Johnsonville’s Wisconsin location and modest sausage budgets... But the reality is that we share a strong passion for doing fun, real and meaningful work that has the ability to break through. We could do all that while remaining true to Johnsonville’s rich brand history as a family-owned company born from a tiny Butcher Shop 70 years ago.

AdForum: The Sausage Nonnas ad campaign leverages the popular services of Uber, the creative talent at Droga5, and Johnsonville’s quality products. However, the campaign would not work without the wonderfully endearing Nonnas. Where did you find these ladies, and did they use their own recipes?

Ryan Pociask: The Nonnas are the real deal. We reached out to Italian social clubs, restaurants and even reality TV casting agencies to find the most authentic Italian Nonnas in Chicago. Between the three of them, there was over 165 years of sausage cooking experience.

As far as recipes, we knew we wanted to feature pasta dishes – and Johnsonville's lasagna, meatball and rigatoni dishes are some of their most popular searched recipes. But each Nonna was also given the freedom to add her own spin to it.

AdForum: The Sausage Nonnas ad campaign has gone viral across social media in part because it is totally hilarious. Did Johnsonville Sausage encourage Droga5 to create a funny ad campaign, or is the humor the result of the Droga5 creative team’s vision?

Ryan Pociask: We always knew that an Uber/Johnsonville partnership was fun, but the idea kept becoming more fun and engaging, the more details we prepared. Once we met the Nonnas themselves, we knew this thing could be very well received.

From a Droga5 standpoint, the creative team always wanted the work to be as fun as possible—and real. Making real connections between the brand and the people who enjoy good food was important. Fortunately for us, our Italian grandmas delivered.

AdForum: This ad campaign clearly is very creative and takes a few risks—including having grandmothers cook in shaking kitchen-trailers moving at high speeds. What was the initial reaction when Droga5 pitched the idea to the folks at Johnsonville Sausage, and at any point did someone raise their hand and say “You want grandmothers to do what?"

Ryan Pociask: We feel like the best work happens when you take a few risks. Especially when those risks involve grandmas, tiny homes and sausage.

(But just so everyone knows, we made sure that the entire activation was carried out as safely as possible. One small kitchen flare-up aside, things went pretty smoothly.)

AdForum: If Droga5 were to be represented by any type of Johnsonville Sausage recipe or meal, what would it be, and why?

Ryan Pociask: It would have to be Gina's "Meatball Spaghetti Meatball" because, just like her, our favorite thing in the kitchen is the stove... and a bottle of wiiiinnnee.