JWT’s ‘Philly Girls’ campaign was launched in 1987 with the remit of turning Philadelphia, previously a luxury, into an ‘everyday treat’. It has fought off competition from cheaper own-label brands and almost trebled its market share. RSL’s Se

In the early Eighties, Philadelphia dominated a niche market. Cream cheese was upmarket and an occasional cheeseboard treat. However, the decade saw the development of the soft cheese market. New continental cheeses, such as Brie and Boursin became more readily available and, as the market grew, the multiples took an interest in the sector.

By the late Eighties, all the major multiples had launched own-label versions of Philadelphia.

The brand was being squeezed from above and below by more exotic, continental soft cheeses and by own-label cream cheeses. With over half of the soft white cheese market, Philadelphia stood to lose share.

The objective was to democratise the brand – it was too niche and too up-market to allow further growth – while protecting the brand’s slightly indulgent image to justify its price premium.

The result was the “Philly Girls” – an ad campaign that has been synonymous with the brand since the first ad in 1987. The contribution to the brand has been extraordinary. Philadelphia has increased its volume share from 46 per cent in 1987 to 56 per cent in 1996: No mean feat for a packaged goods brand with nearly half of the market. The value of sales increased by 2.9 times over nine years to 23.7m.

This has been achieved without sacrificing the 20 per cent price premium that Philadelphia enjoys over own-label. In fact, own-label has been kept to 20 per cent of the market and other brands have lost share.

The campaign also succeeded in taking Philadelphia off the cheeseboard making it everyday, rather than an occasional treat, with penetration rising from 15 per cent to 21 per cent of all UK households.

Central to the advertising are the two talkative secretaries Sarah and Anne. Sarah, the blonde, is the wide-eyed, innocent “brand novice” who is eager to learn from Anne, the East End sophisticate “brand expert”.

They share a hyperbolic love of Philadelphia. This element of humour allows them to be explicit in introducing new varieties of Philadelphia and new ways to use the brand, without appearing ponderous or over-claiming. The campaign has proved flexible and powerful enough to advertise new flavour variants, new line extensions and new serving suggestions.

By maintaining a steady low-level media presence, it was possible to give Philadelphia a year-round presence and stature.

Distribution, pricing, packaging, promotions and the product itself have changed little. The one major variable is the advertising.

On Millward Brown’s Advertising Tracking Study, the “Philly Girls” took the brand’s base-level of recall for the ads from seven to 27 – the brand average is nine. Research and press coverage reveal how the advertising has become synonymous with the brand. You only have to see the girls, or hear their catch phrase “lovely” to think of Philadelphia.

All packaged goods brands are under pressure from own-label products that can match their quality while selling at a discount. The “Philly girls” protected the brand by giving it a sense of “emotional warmth” that own-label and smaller brands cannot match.


Marketing manager: Paul Watmore

AGENCY: J Walter Thompson

Director-in-Charge: David Faulkner

Account director: Christie Stewart-Smith

Account Manager: Dean Taylor

Planning: Bridget Angear/Nick Johnson>

INDUSTRY Viewpoint

Sean Chamberlain

Group managing director Research Services Limited, previously Dairy Crest marketing director

It’s hard to believe this campaign is now ten years old. It’s familiar but still retains its freshness. This is largely the result of the low-level, continuous TV support and the frequent updating of the copy. Heavyweight exposure of potentially irritating characters might have alienated viewers. J Walter Thompson must take credit for its media plan.

There are also other elements to admire in this campaign. First, JWT has persuaded Kraft to take a long-term view of the effectiveness of the characters and Kraft has had the courage to stick with them. Secondly, the two characters were spotted early in their careers and have been effectively hijacked by the brand. Celebrities in TV ads can diminish the strength of the branding because they distract the viewer. In this case, the two actresses enjoy quite frequent exposure in other roles but are always identified as the “Philly Girls”, lending the brand an additional boost of ad awareness whenever they appear. Thirdly, the humorous endlines are effective.

I am not sure that Philly was a cheeseboard item (like Boursin) ten years ago. However, before this campaign, it may have been marginalised by associations with indulgence and regarded as an infrequently purchased treat by some.

The advertising successfully steered it into the mainstream where it not only competes with other soft cheeses but also with butter and spreads as a potential “lubricant” on bread or crackers. The serving suggestions help to communicate the positioning of the product as the base for more interesting food.

However, the growth in brand share cannot be solely attributed to the advertising, although the brand could not have achieved it without this campaign. The market has seen most of Philly’s competitors decline or disappear – whatever happened to Cheddarie and Shape? I also note that “50 per cent extra free” promotions are quite frequent and more generous than the ten to 15 per cent offered ten years ago.

I assume that Kraft and JWT have agonised over whether to continue the Philly girls. It is difficult to tell when a campaign is on the point of going off. It still seems to have a lot of life and, most importantly, no significant competition on TV. I think the varieties probably add very little to the overall brand, but succeed as a defensive manoeuvre in taking up shelf space and keeping out any pretenders.

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