Mark Ritson: Why Kingsmill will fail to butter up the public

Last week Kingsmill launched its Great White loaf. It is a genuinely innovative product because despite its white bread status, the new loaf claims to have as much fibre as its wholemeal competitors.

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At first sight, Allied Bakeries, the manufacturer of Kingsmill, appears to have everything in place to ensure the Great White will be a huge success. Indeed, marketers would do well to benchmark their own launches against the work of director of brands Darren Grivvell and his team at Allied Bakeries, such is the quality of the pre-work that has gone into the launch.

The team clearly has a big bag of market research to drive their strategy. It has identified a very clear target segment, free from the usual demographic puffery, of a consumer who wants healthier bread for a family that will not eat the brown option. The team also has a clear understanding of who its brand’s competitors are and the positioning it needs to adopt against them to win share. Perhaps best of all, Allied Bakeries is not committing the usual sin of developing a product and then applying marketing to generate sales. The Great White has been conceived after the research, segmentation, targeting and positioning has been concluded.

Combine all that with a big launch to create trajectory and I would say Grivvell is a bit of a marketing star. So why am I not bullish about Great White? Because it is attempting to do something that marketing usually finds impossible: educating consumers that what they currently think – that white bread is less good for them than brown – is not the case.

Joe and Julie Public might believe that marketing is an insidious, manipulative tool in which evil marketing manipulators alter and invert consumer sentiment at their will. The reality, as most of us know, is less simple and even less impressive. Attitude change is a precarious pursuit and rarely as binary as educating consumers that left is right, up is down or that white bread is as nutritional as brown.

Marketers may have some success in changing a preference for a particular brand over others on an existing criterion (Goldenlay eggs have bigger yolks than competitors) or in influencing the relative importance of various attributes that contribute to the final decision-making process (a big yolk is worth paying more for) but we struggle in completely reversing  a prevailing attitude (say, a big yellow yolk is a bad thing).

I use the egg example because a few years ago I found myself having exactly this debate with a bunch of very perturbed egg producers who, worried about the dramatic growth in demand for free-range eggs, were intent on a multi-million pound campaign to “educate the consumer” on the dirty habits of free-range hens and the proven superiority of cage eggs. As I explained to my unhappy chicken farmers, in my experience whenever anyone starts talking about ‘education’ in a marketing context, it is usually a signal of product orientation and, ultimately, the start of an expensive and ineffective journey everyone will come to regret.

Even if you have solid proof to back up your claims, dissonance reduction and good old-fashioned consumer suspicion are often impossible barriers. Governments have wasted billions trying to educate young people of the inalienable fact that smoking is not cool. A smarter, more attuned approach to attitude change, such as the one that started this month in the US, would accept the fundamental premise that teens will always think smoking is cool but will be turned off if the consequences of smoking were shown to make them look less attractive. The US campaign has dispensed with pictures of lungs and arteries and focused on the more terrifying (for teenagers at least) threat of premature wrinkles and bags caused by smoking. You will never convince kids that smoking is uncool but if you convince them that it will make them ugly, you might be on to something.

And so it is with white bread and the overriding attitude that it is less good for you. I have no doubts that the impressive Grivvell and his £7m war chest are going to do their very best to change attitudes but it is one hell of a marketing mountain to climb.

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