Deckchairs on the Titanic for Bernard Matthews?

Bernard Matthews, the poultry brand that has been beset by crises over the past two years, is seeking an ad agency to handle its £3m account. Once considered one of the great British brands, it has struggled to bounce back from a string of problems, including avian flu, accusations of cruelty and high-profile criticism of its products.

The brand’s advertising has been limited since the start of its troubles and it has decided against advertising at all until later this year. Marketing director Matt Pullen says: “We felt it was the perfect opportunity to hold a formal advertising strategy and creative pitch. This is something that Bernard Matthews has not undertaken in recent years and we feel it will benefit the brand to do this now.”

He adds that the company is working to create a “sustainable business for the future” by making products that “better meet consumers needs today”.

Rebuilding trust

He says: “Brand communication is a critical part of this business strategy and the aim of the advertising review is to lead to new and engaging communication that rebuilds consumer trust and revitalises one of the UK grocery market’s biggest brands.”

It is exactly the kind of strategy that brand experts believe Bernard Matthews should have been following since last summer. Jasmine Montgomery, managing director at Futurebrand, says the brand faces an “enormous challenge” and that launching a campaign that highlighted the way turkey can be used was like “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic”.

The Turkey for Today ad, which broke last August and was created by BLAC, encouraged people to reappraise the brand. It was part of a wider strategy that also saw it sign up former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies to front a PR campaign, including advertorials (MW July 19, 2007). That was followed by a small-scale Christmas campaign, supporting its Norfolk Golden Turkey.

Verity Evans, creative strategist at consultancy VentureThree, says the brand needs to answer consumer concerns with new product development that fits in with today’s demand for fresh, healthy products. But she thinks it needs to go further and address animal welfare issues and the growing interest in ethical products.

She adds: “The brand feels old fashioned and too focused on process products. There is no health, freshness or vitality about it.”

However, both Evans and Montgomery believe there is still a place for brands – including Bernard Matthews – in a mature category such as meat products. Evans points to The Black Farmer and Daylesford Organic, the premium farm shop brand owned by Lady Bamford – who is part of the family that owns JCB – which charges premium prices for artisan food producers. She adds: “People will pay an enormous amount of money for these products. Bernard Matthews needs to tap into that, although it should aim a few notches lower.”

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, founder of The Black Farmer, says Bernard Matthews has been sullied by its association with own-label products: “It got pushed into the cheap, standard area of the market because supermarkets want to keep the premium end.”

Making friends

He adds that consumers increasingly want “to make friends” with the people that produce their food and become disillusioned when they realise brands are part of “big faceless companies”.

Bernard Matthews says it is planning a number of launches this year that will tap into the demand for healthy, high protein products. It will be hoping that the combination of new product development and a new communications strategy will be enough to convince consumers that it really has changed and left its troubles behind.

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