Birds Eye readies £16m marketing campaign to reveal new brand positioning

Birds Eye’s UK & Ireland marketing director Margaret Jobling reveals why the brand is about to wave goodbye to Clarence the Bear and embark on a new era where food is the focus rather than frozen, which it will convey via a £16m marketing campaign launching on 3 March.

Above: The new Birds Eye campaign aims to encourage people to consider the brand for more meal occasions

Marketing Week (MW): What is the trigger for Birds Eye’s change in brand positioning launching on Monday [3 March]?

Margaret Jobling (MJ): The backdrop for the change is our ambition to double the [turnover of the] business to €3.2bn (£2.6bn) by 2020. We are highly trusted in frozen [food] but we sit in a very small space for consumers.

We have got 84 per cent penetration, so we are in most British households but we are in less than 2 per cent of all meal occasions. We are seen as a ‘teatime fish fingers and peas brand’ but we believe we have got the potential to be relevant to more people more of the time, which will help us grow. We want to move from the world of frozen to the world of food.

MW: How will you be conveying the food focused message to consumers?

MJ: We are launching a big awareness drive across TV, cinema and outdoor on Monday [3 March], which is about real people having real conversations. It’s a very different look and feel to what we have done previously.

Birds Eye’s UK & Ireland marketing director Margaret Jobling

Each starts with ‘Birds Eye presents:…’ along with a theme which could be ‘phones off’ or ‘bad dad jokes’ and then we’ve created a real-life meal experience around that topic featuring some of our key products. All ads finish with the ‘Food of Life’ message and a hashtag.

We are spending £5m over the relaunch period, and a total of £16m throughout the year in the UK, which is about 30 per cent up on last year. Overall, we will be on air 50 weeks of the year, so it’s a big plan. 

We’re seen as the ’teatime fish fingers and peas’ brand but we have the potential to be relevant beyond that

Because the ads show the scene [rather than the people involved] we can essentially take the visuals and re-record the audio, so should One Direction split up, for example, we could very easily overlay a very relevant, topical conversation.

MW: How will the campaign work across different markets?

MJ: This is the first time we will be running a pan-European campaign. The execution is very clever so the visuals will be the same but the recruitment of the families will be done at a local level, and where relevant, we have tried to capture local cultural nuances – the Brits like to dip food in ketchup, for example, whereas the rest of Europe does not.

Previously, we had different assets in different countries, so in Italy we had a sexy captain, while in Germany [the character] was old, and in the UK we had Clarence the Bear.

We wanted to have one ‘big brand’ thought. The most successful brands in the world have a very clear mission and advertising campaign. In total across the group we are spending £60m on the new campaign, which will drive through all countries at the same time.

MW: How will the look of the brand reflect the new position in future?

MJ: We will be launching our new branding and logo later in the year. Our packs are not currently as natural or ‘warm’ as we would like them to be and they are not very organised. We want to make our packs much more food-centric and put the logo in the middle, which makes us much prouder.

MW: Birds Eye wants to get into more meal occasions. How do you plan to do that?


MJ: We are doing a lot of work to see where else we could take the brand in order to expand our footprint. We play in a very small space so even if we could get the fish finger sandwich into lunchtime occasions, the opportunities are enormous. During the summer, we will run some of our ‘Birds Eye presents: the big snack’ ads, which will help us get into some lighter meal occasions.

There is a lot of potential within our existing business too, though. People think of fish fingers as a kids’ product but 65 per cent of consumption is actually adults, so we are looking to take what we already have and increase versatility.

MW: What opportunities does online retail offer?

MJ: We know that frozen food over-indexes in online sales and that Birds Eye over-indexes on frozen food sales. E-tail takes away the barriers the category faces in-store such as being at the back or people finding the aisles cold, so it evens the playing field and is one of our biggest opportunities.

At the end of our ads we will be directing people to our ‘Recipes for Life’ website, which will have recipes, meal ideas and the opportunity to purchase. Consumers can flick through into other content or click to buy products from supermarkets.

Mobile is another key touch point as it gives us always-on relevance. We have been talking about geo-fencing, so we can send out a coupon to consumers when they are in close proximity to a store, for example. 

MW: How have you prepared the team internally to gear up online?

MJ: We have recruited a number of experts centrally, who will be responsible for building the e-tail capability and social across the entire group. 

We have tripled our level of digital spend, so it is about 10 per cent of our budget now, which is a massive increase. I suspect we are the highest spenders across Europe as the UK is the most developed market, both from an e-tail and social perspective. 

MW: What else are you trialling in the digital space?

MJ: Slingshot [which links Facebook fans to supermarkets’ retail sites] is one mechanic we are looking at, but we are testing lots of things to see what is the most effective.

Experimentation is key because nobody really knows what is and is not going to work. We know that we have to be joined up along the user journey though. We are now looking at how best to measure effectiveness because one of the big challenges in this space is that nobody really knows. 

We will put as many irons in the fire as we can responsibly, see what comes out and then follow the money. Test and learn, experiment and figure it out.

MW: There has been a movement among consumers towards fresh, locally sourced and healthy foods, which is not always how frozen foods are viewed, so how do you hope to change consumers’ perceptions?  

MJ: People want to know where their food is from and what is in it, which is a big part for us. Later in the year we will launch another leg of the strategy, which will integrate our corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme with our brand marketing. Our CSR programme is quite corporate at the moment, so we want to make it more consumer facing. 

MW: What impact did the horse meat scandal have on the market and did it influence Birds Eye’s change in brand position?

MJ: The scandal really shook up the food industry. You can never protect against fraud, which is essentially what it was, but I think it has galvanised companies’ thinking around driving greater transparency and trust with consumers. 

It has obviously become a core part of our thinking, but for us strategically, the change in position has stemmed from wanting to make the brand even bigger and to emotionally connect with more people more often.

The transparency of sourcing is definitely part of it, but it is more about ’warming up’ the brand. The perception of the category is anchored in a place that people think isn’t of great quality. We have got to reassert the fact that we use great quality ingredients and make great quality food. 

MW: Clarence the Bear has been a popular character for the brand so how are you going to ensure consumers get on board with the new campaign?

MJ: He has done a really brilliant job at building consistency and a tone of voice for the brand over the past three years, but he is rooted in the frozen world. When we looked at where we need to take the brand, he no longer felt relevant.

He is a character that people engage with though, so we did not just want to cut him off. Instead, we put a post on Facebook saying that he is going travelling, as we wanted to send him away but keep the relationship there and transition our fans through to the next era.

MW: What is the relationship between the Birds Eye, Findus and Iglo brands?

MJ: Iglo Group is the parent company. In the UK, the brand is Birds Eye and a different business owns Findus. In Europe, apart from Italy, the business is Iglo; in Italy the brand is Findus. In our Iglo markets across Europe the Findus brand is owned by the same company as in the UK. It is fairly complicated.

MW: What was the thinking behind the launch of ’Mashtags’ – the potato product in the shape of a hashtag?

MJ: We have got huge heritage in potatoes and it felt like something we could have fun with, particularly in light of the new campaign where everything is hashtag-related. In the three years since I have been at Birds Eye, I have never had more people text me to say how much they love the idea.

MW: What other products do you have planned for 2014?

MJ: We have a lot coming up this year, the next tranche of which will be in April. It again comes back to appealing to more people more often. The products will be more culinary and more adult, which will help us build the brand.

MW: Luca Miggiano has just been appointed as chief marketing officer of Iglo Group – a recently revived role – how will that effect the marketing structure?

MJ: We used to have a very product-led structure, so people would look after fish or chicken or vegetables. As part of the reorganisation, we are now essentially organised around ‘plates’, so a central plate [of food] or a side plate, which makes us more consumer-led. 

It is a brilliant time for marketing at Birds Eye, because for the brand to grow at the rate that is hoped, it is recognised that marketing will be the driver.