Marketing Lessons from the Hills Snack Bar Circa 1989

As a kid, I have really fond memories of Hills department stores. After all, that’s where my Dad bought me the original Nintendo system that consumed me for the next five years!

I also fondly remember the snack bar in the front foyer complete with roller dogs, popcorn, jumbo pretzels and of course a kid’s dream come true (and parent’s nightmare) the extra large, full of crazy sugar, slushy.

At the time, going shopping with the folks at Hills was a treat!

Flash forward 25 years and Pennsylvania-based Sugar Creek Candle Company is cashing in on the nostalgia! They have created a candle that smells like the old Hills foyer–the good smells or popcorn, pretzels and cherry icees–not the bad smells.

So what marketing lessons can we learn from a Hills Snack Bar candle?


Market Awareness/Emotion

The candle market is flooded with many of the same old scents. Sugar Creek saw an opportunity to be different, stand out, and appeal to nostalgia. They realize that many of their top buyers were very fond of the “good-old-days” and love reminiscing. This candles brings them back to a happy time, stands out from the competition, and evokes an emotional response. When was the last time any other candle made you think back to a fond moment in your childhood? It’s also so interesting that it appeals to the non-traditional candle buyer (maybe even those who never purchased a candle in their lives).

Social Insight

On reason for the sudden success of this particular candle was the fact that maybe it wasn’t “sudden” at all. The candle was named “Pittsburgh Dad’s Hills Snack Bar” after a bit by local comedian and actor Curt Wootton. Curt’s YouTube channel has over 84,000 followers and his Facebook page has over 200,000 fans. He frequently posts funny, nostalgic bits about growing up and fatherhood. He already has a strong and vocal following and looking closely at what resonates on his social channels (i.e. what gets the most engagement, views, clicks) is a good indicator of what the market is interested in.

Power of Social Influencers

Curt Wootton posted about this new candle on his Pittsburgh Dad Facebook page. The post immediately went viral. At the time of this writing, one Facebook post from a key influencer had over 11,000 Likes and over 4,200 shares! The reach is absolutely amazing and candle orders are through the roof. A quick snapshot of comments shows just how much emotion this niche product has generated:


Key Takeaways?

  • Research your target audience and get to know what they are passionate about.
  • Connect with and engage with social influencers.
  • If you can build a strong emotional connection–you don’t have to sell.



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