Wrigley’s sticks to a winning formula

Wrigley’s, the client all creative agencies love to hate, is about to finalise its UK advertising agency review.

The US global giant, renowned for its unswerving faith in incredibly bland advertising, will soon decide on an agency for its Spearmint Gum brand to devise a campaign that, unsurprisingly, emphasises its “longer-lasting flavour”.

Its ads are repeatedly mocked by industry pundits for their bad lines, bad dubbing, and blinkered vision of wholesome, clean and happy youth.

But the world’s dullest client also has a sales curve that most would kill for. It continues to have a near monopoly in the UK and goes, seemingly inexorably, from strength to strength, brushing off competition from supermarket own-label and overseas entrants with ease.

Grey Advertising and TBWA are pitching for the flagship Spearmint Gum brand after Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO resigned the business in June. But a vote of no confidence from one of the country’s top creative agencies is unlikely to dent Wrigley’s belief that it knows best.

It would appear that AMV resigned the account with reluctance but also some relief. Wrigley’s UK operation may be an impressive and pleasant organisation with a large degree of national autonomy, but it has rules to follow laid down from on high which left AMV hamstrung.

The company is still a family business, started in the 1890s in Chicago by a young soap salesman called William Wrigley, who pioneered the use of advertising. It is now run by his grandson, the company president and chief executive, William Wrigley III.

Its ads regularly feature chaste, healthy-looking young men and women – for example, the long-running ad made by BBDO London of a young couple meeting in a coach over a stick of Spearmint Gum, or the more recent Doublemint ad through Bray Leino of a young man greeting his girlfriend as he sits in front of the TV.

More recent executions for the sugar-free brands Orbit and Wrigley’s Extra use traditional persuasive messages, stressing that chewing helps fight tooth decay and giving gum a newly-won respectability.

Young & Rubicam has been tipped to win the 4m advertising business for Orbit and Freedent from Bray Leino (MW September 6). Y&R already handles the dental care consumer and professional account. Philip Hamilton, Wrigley’s UK managing director, was unavailable for comment on the review as Marketing Week went to press.

Observers believe Wrigley’s UK success has happened despite its advertising, because it has handled its distribution and trade relations so well.

Wherever you go, a packet of Wrigley’s is always at hand. To paraphrase one of Coca-Cola’s founding fathers, its brands are “within an arm’s reach of desire”.

A trade source says: “Wrigley’s gives out merchandising equipment hand over fist. It fits out stores with exactly the display units that size of store needs, to exactly the right specifications.”

The racks always go next to the checkout, at the point of purchase, partly because chewing gum packets are so small they make easy pickings for young shoplifters so they must be close to the shop assistant.

Wrigley’s can also shrug off competition because it has a top quality product filling every sector in the market, leaving no room for rivals. Chewing gum, unlike chocolate confectionery for example, scarcely varies as a product, give or take a few different flavours or different-shaped pellets and sticks.

Nevertheless, there are clearly differentiated roles for gum within this market, with certain brands positioned to freshen the breath, give long-lasting flavour or improve dental hygiene, for example.

Wrigley’s portfolio covers all these functions – and its range also offers something for every age group. Children with a sweet tooth might start on the Wrigley’s bubble gum Hubba Bubba, move up to Juicy Fruit as they get older and then switch to the mainstream Spearmint or perhaps the sugar-free Extra as they become more health-conscious.

Warner Lambert, Wrigley’s

nearest rival, has tried to carve out a place for its Clorets brand, which has the selling point of an added breath freshener, Actizol. Haitai, the South Korean import which arrived in the UK in 1994, offers consumers a wide variety of different fruit-based flavours, as opposed to the mainly mint-based Wrigley’s. Its launch advertising campaign, through Lansdown Conquest, played on its differences, with a positioning as the “thoroughly unAmerican gum”. A refreshing alternative, compared with Wrigley’s banality one might think.

But the trade has not bitten and Haitai languishes with a 0.7 per cent share of the market (IRI InfoScan, August), which has dipped by 0.2 per cent compared with a year

ago. Meanwhile, Warner Lambert

continues to lose ground, with its total share for brands such as Clorets, Stimorol and Dentyne accounting for only 5.7 per cent of the market (IRI InfoScan, August), compared with 10.7 per cent at the end of 1993. Over the same periods, Wrigley’s has grown from an 88.3 per cent share to 93.1 per cent.

A trade source says: “You lose more money on what you don’t sell of Wrigley’s than from any additional business you get from Haitai. The unusual flavours will sell reasonably well to kids, but all Wrigley’s has to do is bring out a flavour like Tropical Tang in the Hubba Bubba range and it catches that market.”

Wrigley’s products have immense availability and, coupled with strong visibility, its name has become a generic term for chewing gum. The company has a history of serious investment in advertising and continues to ensure its products are consistently on air.

An open-minded observer might argue that its ads work because they make the viewer feel good about the product. If chewing gum, like smoking, drinking and taking drugs, is one of the first acts of rebellion we can make, albeit rather small, it is never reflected in Wrigley’s ads.

Like those clean, clinical ads for cigarette brands which are so far removed from the reality of nicotined stained fingers and stinking hair and clothes, Wrigley’s sanitised executions are light years away from our everyday experiences of gum – disgusting blobs of gunk that stick to shoes and the underside of school desks.

But Philip Hamilton, Wrigley’s UK managing director, says one of the most significant reasons for the company’s growth is that it has got rid of some of this social stigma. He attributes this to the power of dental-care advertising.

He says: “Our major competitor was and still is social unacceptability. We set out to develop a unique selling point – the benefits of chewing to dental hygiene – to try and overcome this. The dental profession is supporting us and we have added 30 per cent more consumers in the past six to seven years.

“I agree our advertising hasn’t won many creative awards, but then it is very effective. It is not entertainment, we are in the business of selling our products.”

So Wrigley’s can shrug off agencies that will not accommodate its style of advertising or the repeated criticism of its corny results. With blanket distribution, a well-spread portfolio and a big media spend, its sales keep going up. And if it ain’t broke – why fix it?

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Tom Fishburne is founder of Marketoon Studios. Follow his work at marketoonist.com or on Twitter @tomfishburne See more of the Marketoonist here

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