KP Snacks wanted to rejuvenate advertising for Hula Hoops, by restoring its appeal to the core market. Group research highlighted the importance of its shape – so how could the ads exploit it? Martin Glenn of Walkers reviews the new campaign

Hula Hoops is one of Britain’s best-loved brands. More than 25 years old, it sells over a million packs daily.

But having peaked in 1987, it gradually lost its market leading position. KP wanted to rectify this loss of “primary demand” and establish a long-term selling idea.

Like most snacks, its ads had leaned towards trendy images and a play on the name, partly because it is eaten by lots of different people for lots of different reasons. Research shows “crunch”, “finger play”, “substantiality”, and “potatoey taste” are all cited as factors.

The aim was to restore Hula Hoops’ status by confirming why consumers like the product and at the same time to give the brand a more attractive personality.

The focus was 13 to 15-year-olds – old enough to be “aspirational” for younger children without straying into the exclusive world of teenage advertising. By getting it right for this group the campaign would have an excellent chance of appealing to the child in everyone.

Research confirmed that the majority of Hula Hoops’ benefits come simply from its shape: if Hula Hoops are not round they lose everything, their identity as well as their product appeal.

Publicis and KP analysed the Hula Hoops shape at length, even making some flat Hula Hoops using water and a microwave oven. This resulted in some of the least appetising and dullest food items ever created, according to both agency and client.

Boys and girls aged 13 to 15 were also invited to discuss the snack’s shape, with “You can’t change the shape of Hula Hoops” emerging as the best expression.

The idea of threatening to change the shape subtly reminded consumers what they enjoyed most about the brand. From this proposition, the core idea became: “Hula Hoops, they’ll be a-round forever.”

The creative team quickly identified the fit between this core idea and characters from the Harry Enfield TV show, the Self Righteous Brothers – Frank and George Doberman. Who better to say “Oi… No, you can’t change the shape of Hula Hoops!”? The Dobermans tap the mood of this age group.

Three executions were created – Edmonds, Minogue and Venables. The slight digs at the popular “institutions” of Noel, Kylie and Terry add depth to the idea. The phrase “Oi…No” was also used on six-sheet posters.

After the first burst of activity in June and July, the Millward Brown awareness index was among the highest recorded.

Scores for correct brand attribution and endline recall are way above the norm. The research also shows that there is strong recall about “not changing the shape” and being “a-round for ever”.

It is too early to monitor response on how the campaign is boosting sales, but initial results show sales are up during the advertising compared with last year. The long-term trend also appears to be shifting upwards, prompting the view that the campaign will be “a-round” for a long time, if not forever.

Industry Viewpoint

Martin Glenn, Vice president marketing, Walkers Snack Foods

It is impossible to discuss Harry Enfield’s Hula Hoops campaign without considering how it is affected by all the other campaigns that Enfield is involved in (Mercury, Dime Bar and Worthington).

It may be true that using Enfield lacks originality, although Worthington has used him differently by at least creating a character, but does this matter?

In the case of Hula Hoops the answer is “No”, not for now anyway.

The Enfield campaign is a clear improvement on what the company has previously been doing. Its pre-Enfield campaign was strategically correct. It talked about a meaningful benefit – hunger satisfaction – and used a contemporary celebrity, Richard O’Brien, to get it across. It was clever, but maybe too clever.

The Enfield campaign, by contrast, celebrates a product feature (the shape) which isn’t hugely meaningful to consumers, but it is conveyed with a lot more passion. Better to get noticed than be anonymously virtuous.

More significantly for Hula Hoops, the campaign achieved a stature which was important for other (often neglected) advertising targets, namely employees and the trade. Hula Hoops has been losing market share for the past couple of years.

In 1995 it lost its number one snack brand position to Quavers in the profitable impulse (independent) channel. This decline forced cost-cutting and employee lay-offs.

In an atmosphere like this, high-profile advertising can work wonders and I bet the claim “Hula Hoops will be around forever” was a great tonic for the troops.

The big question is “what next?” Is the campaign going to build Hula Hoops’ brand equity or Harry Enfield’s? Is the campaign effectively only sponsored entertainment – “Harry Enfield is brought to you by Hula Hoops”?

As long as so many different brands use Harry Enfield it will be difficult to enjoy the spin-off benefits of a celebrity spokesman. In contrast, 77 per cent of the UK population associate Gary Lineker with Walkers Crisps.

Given his high frequency of media appearances this must be good for Walkers. I wonder how many people, seeing Harry Enfield’s next TV show will say “Look, there’s the Hula Hoops bloke.

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