April’s most effective ad revealed: Walkers ‘CrispIN or CrispOUT’

Walkers is behind April’s most effective ad campaign, winning over the public by tapping into “unspoken behaviour” and scoring high on both long and short-term effectiveness measures, according to The Works study.

Are you an advocate of the crisp sandwich, or does the thought of mixing crunchy and soft textures make you feel just a bit nauseous? Walkers believes there’s a debate to be had, and in tapping into that conversation the brand has produced the most effective advert of April in terms of public response.

The tongue-in-cheek, 60-second TV spot features a series of humorous vignettes illustrating the polarising debate, as crisp sandwich lovers meet with reactions of dismay, disgust and outrage.

Walkers made a media investment of more than £3m for the ‘CrispIN or CrispOUT’ campaign, rolling it out across TV, social and PR. The brand partnered with sandwich chain Subway, which also made it its priority campaign for the April-May cycle. Subway contributed its own media budget, specifically for out-of-home advertising.

According to The Works, a monthly study produced using Kantar Marketplace data, the Walkers’ ad was in the 98th percentile for expressiveness – the extent to which an ad evokes any emotion on people’s faces as they watch the ad moment by moment. In other words, it was in the top 3% of all ads in the UK for that measure.

“We know this is important from an effectiveness point of view because our brains are programmed to pay attention to things that make us feel something,” explains Kantar’s UK head of creative excellence, Lynne Deason.

Produced in association with Marketing Week and the Advertising Association’s Trust Working Group, The Works study asks 750 consumers what they think of five of April’s top TV ads – 150 consumers per advert.

The research reviewed the critical factors that have been proven to determine whether an ad will be effective in the short term and if it will contribute to a brand’s success in the longer term.

Kantar also used facial coding powered by EmotionAI to find out how consumers engaged emotionally with each advert, determining the power of the ad to provoke an emotional reaction, as well as the nature of that emotion.

CrispIN or CrispOUT scored in the top 2% of ads on making viewers smile and in the top 21% for viewer enjoyment.

smiles chart
The analysis of the extent to which the Walkers campaign made people smile.

But the ad isn’t just entertaining. Crucially, it’s also strongly connected to the Walkers brand. The campaign came in the top 6% on salience, an ad’s ability to earn attention and create memories associated with the brand. According to Deason, that’s an “incredibly strong” result.

“We know this plays a very important role in driving how effective the ad will be in both the short and the long term,” she adds.

Additionally, the ad was in the top 25% of all ads in the UK in building a sense of “love” and affinity towards the brand, a contributing factor in how effective the ad will be, particularly in the long term.

Meanwhile, the advert was also deemed to have the potential to be highly effective in the short term. Despite only scoring in the ninth percentile for persuasion, Kantar believes the ad has a 74% likelihood of driving a sale due to being in the 90th percentile for awareness.

“It’s a brilliant demonstration of how creativity and originality can translate a human insight into a distinctive ad that earns attention in a very amusing, engaging and memorable way,” says Deason.

“Our human brains are lazy and people rarely put in the mental effort required to figure out what is happening in an ad. This is often a challenge for vignette style ads, but is not a barrier to success here. The idea is set up very clearly from the beginning with each subsequent scene intuitively and humorously reinforcing the same concept.”

When you put together this idea of nostalgia with something that fuels universal conversation and debate, there is something there.

Fernando Kahane, Walkers

Deason also points to the nostalgic effect of the ad in evoking memories of childhood, an emotion she claims consumers seek out in times of crisis (such as in the aftermath of a national pandemic).

In reaction to the ad, one participant in the study said: “It is something I used to do a lot – crisps in sarnies – [but I] haven’t done it for a long time. Might start again with Walkers Salt and Vinegar.”

Any crisp brand could have come up with the idea for the film, Deason points out, but while the ad represents a further departure from Walkers’ previous ‘Too good to share’ campaign, the concept of irresistibility that is central to the idea still remains.

“As such the brand retains a central role in the ad in a very authentic ‘Walkers’ way. This, along with the integration of established brand cues from the outset, helps people easily recognise and remember which brand the ad is for,” she says.

“Whilst the ad doesn’t make the brand feel particularly different to others, this very enjoyable and emotionally resonant idea is highly effective at building affinity and love of Walkers.”

Consumer-centric vs product-centric

According to Walkers senior marketing director, Fernando Kahane, the idea for the campaign came with the acknowledgement that lunch is an “important occasion” for crisps, with about 40% of crisp consumption in the UK happening around midday. At the same time, the sandwich is the number one lunchtime dish.

The business objective was therefore to make sure that when people think about sandwiches, they think about Walkers crisps. “We wanted to create this interconnected mental availability between them,” Kahane explains.

As such, the brand decided to focus on the “very British” creation of crisp sandwiches. On speaking with consumers, the insights team found the way people talked about the national delicacy was “emotional” and connected to nostalgic feelings. But it was also polarising – a “Marmite dilemma”.

“When you put together this idea of nostalgia with something that fuels universal conversation and debate, there is something there,” he adds.

It’s a brilliant demonstration of how creativity and originality can translate a human insight into a distinctive ad.

Lynne Deason, Kantar

But on top of nostalgia, Walkers found that indulging in a crisp sandwich is “unspoken behaviour”. Qualitative research found that people would only eat their crisp sandwich at home, as in public they feared judgement. That insight was affirmed in quantitative research. Nearly one in five people eat their crisp sandwich in secret, while 30% say they only eat it at home.

“These insights tap into a nostalgic feeling, they tap into something debatable, but also into this unspoken behaviour and this fear of feeling judgement,” says Kahane. “This feeling that people cannot exercise their right to eat a crisp sandwich is what generated the whole campaign. It is an ad built on real consumer behaviour.”

Kahane adds that Walkers plans to double down on research-backed campaigns in future, focusing on “innovative insights” that look underneath a basic observation into the “unspoken truths and behaviour” that consumers can connect with, creating “consumer-centric” rather than “product-centric” campaigns.

“We do put a lot of work into getting into the insight and what is underneath the insight, which we could supercharge the emotion of our narrative with,” he says.

“If we just stopped on the surface about crisp sandwiches, we wouldn’t have got to this ad. We had to go into the nuances that would charge that ad with emotion and make people feel different about it. The product of course has a role, but the stories are about people, not about crisps.”