Taste of the unexpected

A once well-known brand can tempt lapsed consumers and attract new customers by inviting them to sample the product at stores or bars, or by repositioning its image. By Steve Hemsley

In South Korea, people give friends cans of Spam as a gift, while the Hawaiians eat on average four tins of the chopped pork and ham combination every year – more than any other populace. Yet, however nice the taste, UK consumers cannot get the image of the Monty Python Vikings sketch or Second World War rationing out of their minds when they think of Spam. Indeed, brand owner Hormel Foods provided 15 million cans each week to the troops and President Eisenhower acknowledged the role of Spam in the war effort.

So what can a company do when a mature brand enjoys a high level of awareness, but UK shoppers have fallen out of love with it or are simply reluctant to try it?

In your face, literally

One answer is to use field marketing and brand experience techniques that will literally put the product in the face of the target consumer at the point of purchase and show them what they are missing.

I2i Face to Face Marketing was asked by Hormel and licensed producer Tulip to organise a Spam roadshow. It visited 65 Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda and Somerfield stores in the Midlands and the North, where people were offered hot or cold Spam and were given recipe cards and money-off coupons.

More than 100,000 samples were distributed and redemption levels reached double figures. The average sales uplift in each store was 656 per cent during the week of the activity and 80 per cent the week after. The sampling helped sales of Spam rise by ten per cent over the year.

Swen Neufeldt, European general manager for Hormel, says there were many negative perceptions of Spam that had to be conquered. “We knew that Spam had a certain image and that the customer profile of the tinned meat buyer was slightly older, but 70 per cent of consumers in the UK have tried Spam,” he says. “We wanted to promote our key point of difference in this category, which we believe is the taste, and this is where face-to-face marketing comes into its own.”

I2i managing director Bruce Burnett says the brief was to reach lapsed consumers who may have eaten Spam years ago, and to convince younger people to try it for the first time. “This is all about literally putting a product in people’s mouths, and the element of surprise on their faces was amazing,” he says.

Spam is not alone in using field marketing to re-ignite consumer interest. When Revlon wanted to convince younger consumers to buy its relaunched 1970s perfume Charlie, it asked Link Communication to source promotional staff who could be transformed into modern Charlie Girls.

These women had to epitomise the brand values of sassy, funky and glamorous. They then visited bars and clubs in eight cities searching for other girls who fitted the perfume’s image and whose memory of Charlie was of their mother or auntie wearing it.

The Charlie Girls obtained the contact details of every woman they spoke to and their permission to use their picture on the Charlie website. The Link team captured more than 1,000 photos, distributed 4,000 branded bangles and handed out 10,000 business cards.

“People did have fixed ideas about the brand so we had to get over that by focusing on the positive images of when these women were younger and when the Charlie scent was in the house,” says Link managing director Joel Kaufman. “Revlon wanted to create a living version of the brand values to talk directly to modern professional females.”

Something fresh to say

Before other mature brands follow the example of Spam and Charlie, they must be clear why sales may have stalled. Although analysis by in-store communications and advertising specialist Sales Activation Solutions (SAS) reveals sampling activity can boost sales by between 200 per cent and 700 per cent in the first week, field marketing will often win back consumers only if there is something fresh to say. “There is often an underlying reason why people became tired of a brand,” says SAS chief executive Ian Taylor.

Often, companies do not realise consumers have disengaged with their brand until it is too late. By this time, sampling may be only part of the solution and investment in repackaging and marketing activity may be necessary to reposition a product in the eyes of the public and retailers.

Field marketing agency FDS’s in-store work for McVitie’s took place alongside an above-the-line campaign. Low-carbohydrate diets mean snacking trends have changed, so McVitie’s joined forces with PG Tips and used comedian Peter Kay in a humorous sketch to recreate the traditional link between tea and biscuit dunking.

David Foster, managing director of face-to-face marketing and retail trade support company Raisley, says problems can creep up on brands. “You can get a lot of me-too products entering a category which may not taste as good or deliver the same benefits, but for whatever reason – maybe price or fashion – consumers are persuaded to switch,” he says.

Often the only way forward for a mature brand is to seek out other markets and completely new consumers. “We study who is the target consumer, how the product’s market has changed and whether the brand should be going after a different type of customer. We then analyse how these consumers access media messaging so we can sample in the correct environment, whether that is a supermarket or a bar,” says Foster.

Two established brands that have tried to reinvent themselves are Lucozade and Del Monte.

If the face fits

Experiential agency Closer, part of Billington Cartmell, was involved in the Lara Croft campaign for Lucozade that moved the drink away from its medicinal past and firmly positioned it as an energy drink. It arranged for Lara lookalikes to perform athletic stunts in city centres, for instance. Closer managing director Belinda Chambers says: “Experiential field marketing gives you the cut-through you need to engage with consumers. It allows you the time to explain to people how a brand has changed because, with brand heritage, there is always baggage.”

The Del Monte activity took place during the summer and was organised by SAS and iD Live Brand Experience. The brief was to show parents and young health-conscious people that eating tinned fruit is one way of meeting the recommended target of five pieces of fruit or vegetables a day. The emphasis of the sampling and demonstrations was more on how the product could be used to make trendy fruit smoothies than how granny can use tinned fruits in her home-made trifles.

Even famous brands are adopting field marketing to win back lapsed buyers. Heinz asked experiential company Theatre to promote its relaunched soups range by explaining to shoppers how the ingredients had been improved, salt levels reduced and new varieties introduced. “Heinz wanted to demonstrate how passionate it still is about soup and it was aware consumer tastes had changed. This type of activity provides a platform to communicate and reinforce brand messages,” says Theatre managing director Rob Quinn.

Theatre is no stranger to revitalizing mature brands, having worked with Lux last year. Unilever wanted to re-engage consumers with a product thought of purely as a soap bar but which is now available in a range of modern products such as a Lux shower gel.

It can be difficult convincing consumers to buy any product again or for the first time if they have a preconceived idea of how it will taste or feel and if they consider it to be unfashionable.

Lipton Ice Tea is desperate to be loved by UK shoppers. The challenge for experiential agency RPM during a recent campaign at music festivals was to convince people the product does not taste like a cold cup of tea and that, if served chilled, the peach, lemon and other flavours make it a refreshing alternative to fizzy drinks.

“Lipton Ice Tea campaigns are always about not knocking something until you have tried it, and about a third of the brand’s marketing budget is spent on sampling near the point of purchase,” says account manager Michelle Wilson.

While brand managers struggle to find the best way to attract lapsed buyers, some experts argue they shouldn’t always bother. Robert East, a psychologist who moved into the marketing industry 25 years ago, specialises in word-of-mouth marketing. He says there are many reasons why people fall out of love with a brand. They may have been deterred by a price increase, poor service or the attraction of a new player, or they may have just grown out of a product. “People won’t always go back to a brand, however hard a company tries. Often they will have moved up the hierarchy in a category, whether that is food or cars, or they no longer have the same personal needs,” says East.

Nevertheless, brand owners believe in their products and argue that if they are attracting new consumers there is no reason why people who used to buy them.

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