Monday, July 17, 2006

For CBS’s Fall Lineup, Check Inside Your Refrigerator

NYTimes: Published: July 17, 2006

IN September, CBS plans to start using a new place to advertise its fall television lineup: your breakfast.

Skip to next paragraph

Ads for CBS’s shows will be etched on eggs sold at some grocery stores.

The network plans to announce today that it will place laser imprints of its trademark eye insignia, as well as logos for some of its shows, on eggs — 35 million of them in September and October. CBS’s copywriters are referring to the medium as “egg-vertising,” hinting at the wordplay they have in store. Some of their planned slogans: “CSI” (“Crack the Case on CBS”); “The Amazing Race” (“Scramble to Win on CBS”); and “Shark” (“Hard-Boiled Drama.”). Variations on the ad for its Monday night lineup of comedy shows include “Shelling Out Laughs,” “Funny Side Up” and “Leave the Yolks to Us.”

George Schweitzer, president of the CBS marketing group, said he was hoping to generate some laughter in American kitchens. “We’ve gone through every possible sad takeoff on shelling and scrambling and frying,” he said, adding, “It’s a great way to reach people in an unexpected form.”

Newspapers, magazines and Web sites are so crowded with ads for entertainment programming that CBS was ready to try something different, Mr. Schweitzer said. The best thing about the egg concept was its intrusiveness.

“You can’t avoid it,” he said. He liked the idea so much that he arranged for CBS to be the only advertiser this fall to use the new etching technology. •The CBS ads are the first to use imprinting technology developed by a company called EggFusion, based in Deerfield, Ill. Bradley Parker, who founded the company, wanted to reassure shoppers that egg producers were not placing old eggs in new cartons, so he developed a laser-etching technique to put the expiration date directly on an egg during the washing and grading process.

EggFusion, which was founded in 2001, started production last year with one egg company, Radlo Foods, which has since produced 30 million Born Free brand farm-raised eggs with etching. In May, EggFusion landed its first large grocery chain, A.& P., which will use the imprints on 400,000 America’s Choice conventional eggs sold each day in A.& P., Waldbaum’s, Food Emporium and Super Fresh stores from Connecticut to Maryland. Mr. Parker, whose family runs a chicken farm in North Carolina, knew that the way to get egg producers to cooperate was to make it worth their while. His answer was advertising on eggs.

“It’s unlike any other ad medium in the world, because you are looking at the medium while you are using it,” he says.

Egg producers, distributors and retailers all share in the ad revenue. EggFusion is selling the ads on its own, but plans to enlist the help of advertising agencies, company executives said.

As EggFusion sees it, consumers look at a single egg shells at least a few times: when they open a carton in the store to see if any eggs are cracked, if they transfer them from the carton to the refrigerator, and when they crack them open.

Mr. Parker said the destination of eggs was tracked so precisely that he envisioned being able to offer localized advertising, even aiming at specific ZIP codes, to promote events like local food festivals and concerts. He is setting aside a portion of the ads for charities, too, he said. The imprint is applied in the packaging plant, as the eggs are washed, graded and “candled,” or inspected for flaws, when the eggs are held by calipers and moved along a production line at 225 feet a minute. Right before an egg is packaged, laser light is applied to the shell, giving it the etching. Each imprint takes 34 milliseconds to 73 milliseconds, so the processing of eggs is not appreciably slowed down, Mr. Parker said.

The etching is ultrathin, to a depth of 50 to 90 micrometers, or 5 percent of the shell’s thickness. The imprint cannot be altered without breaking the shell, Mr. Parker said, in contrast to Europe, where ink is used to apply expiration dates on eggs.

“Ink is alcohol dye, so it can be wiped off. And ink splatters,” he said.

•A similar process to EggFusion’s has been used on a limited scale in the United States with fruits and vegetables, but mostly for replacing the price stickers used by grocers to track inventory and ring up an order.

It is not clear how commonly old eggs are placed in new cartons to appear fresher than they are. Repackaging is illegal, said Al Pope, president of the United Egg Producers industry group, and he says he believes it is rarely done. However, “If a consumer feels that having a date on the egg has some value, then it’s up to the consumer,” he said. “We believe in choices.”

Shaun M. Emerson, EggFusion’s chief executive, said: “I’m not sure you could ever know” how often repackaging old eggs occurs.

EggFusion has technicians assigned to each egg plant, and it owns the equipment and the freshness data, to ensure that no tampering occurs, the company’s executives said.

The eggs also carry a code that can be checked on a Web site,, to find out where the egg originated, the date it left the plant and the names of the distributor and retailer.

Both Radlo and A.& P. pay for the etchings — they will not say how much — but because A.& P.’s eggs will carry the CBS ads, it will also share in the ad revenue. But is egg-vertising an idea with staying power, or will the novelty expire after a few dozen bad puns?

“At this point it’s too early to tell,” Mr. Schweitzer of CBS acknowledges. “I think it’s like you know good ideas when you see them.”