Birds Eye: We have a responsibility to keep advertising

As a “brand of reassurance”, Birds Eye feels a responsibility to stay on air and remain connected to consumers during the coronavirus pandemic.

During a time of crisis, it can be tempting for brands to pull ad spend and wait for the situation to return to normal before reaching out to consumers.

Rather than choosing to ‘go dark’ as the Covid-19 pandemic escalates, Birds Eye has decided to show its support for shoppers by staying on TV screens and offering them the comfort of a familiar brand.

The ‘What’s for Tea?’ campaign, which launches on ITV tomorrow (7 April), features snapshots of the lives of consumers currently living in lockdown. Turned around in just 18 days, the advert was created and approved by Birds Eye marketers across Europe working completely remotely.

The campaign hits screens as sales of frozen food have rocketed by 84% in the four weeks to 21 March, according to Nielsen data.

“We felt we owed a responsibility to consumers to say, ‘You’re turning to us when you really need some reassurance and we want to be there for you to provide that’,” explains UK and Ireland marketing director, Sarah Koppens.

“For us being on air wasn’t about saying ‘Get out there and buy our chicken dippers or our waffles’ or ‘Have you tried our new Green Cuisine?’ because we didn’t feel that was an appropriate message. What we wanted to say to consumers was ‘You’re there for each other, we’re here for you’.”

Having spoken to her Italian counterpart a few weeks ago, Koppens knew there was a good chance the UK would be adopting similar lockdown measures. With this in mind, she got together with her fellow heads of marketing across Europe and established there were three options – go dark, business as usual or something different.

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“Going dark did not feel like the right thing to do. At times of uncertainty consumers really appreciate having a consistent message and having brands they know and trust out there talking to them and saying, ‘Look we were here before, we’re here during, we’ll be here after and we’re going to go through this with you’,” she explains.

“Another option was to leave our business as usual copy, which just didn’t feel right. Firstly, it was showing no acknowledgement or understanding of the difficulties of the circumstances everybody was going to be living under. Secondly, it doesn’t seem right to be saying to people ‘Hey go out and purchase this particular product’ when actually we knew people might be going to stores where what they would be allowed to buy would be limited or perhaps sold out completely.”

As a “brand of reassurance”, Birds Eye knew it needed to stay on screens, but adopt a tone that was sensitive to the current circumstances. Rather than heroing any particular product, the team decided to focus on moments of connection and mutual support people were demonstrating during the crisis.

“We didn’t want to be seen as a brand who, when things got a bit tough, disappeared because that’s not who we are and we wanted to show consumers we were still here and still listening,” Koppens explains.

Birds Eye already had its media buy planned for April, having committed several weeks in advance of knowing how the virus would take hold in the UK.

The idea had been for “business as usual” when the media slots were booked, however when the team realised the UK was moving into lockdown they reached out to the media owners. Birds Eye explained it wanted to stay on air, but the media buy needed to be rejigged in a reciprocal way to ensure the brand could book more slots.

Creative direction

It was important to find an idea with as much common ground across Europe as possible, because the team did not have time to approve 15 different versions of the advert.

The concept had to be sensitive, as well as optimistic, celebrating the positive aspects coming out of the crisis. Plus, with the number of meal times families are sitting down to eat together growing each week, Birds Eye felt it had a clear part to play.

The team reviewed a couple of scripts, getting together via video conferencing to share ideas from England, France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands.

Going dark did not feel like the right thing to do. At times of uncertainty consumers really appreciate having a consistent message.

Sarah Koppens, Birds Eye

Once the idea was agreed on, the agency was tasked with sourcing stock footage that could convey the right message, rather than repurposing clips from old Birds Eye ads.

“This was about saying ‘This is an ad of the moment’ and we need to reflect that. In many ways it doesn’t have the same polished production qualities that you would expect of a film that has been shot in a bespoke way, but actually we feel that’s part of the reality of what we’re doing and part of the honesty and truth around it,” Koppens explains.

The What’s for Tea? campaign is supported by a content hub, offering families resources to help them during the lockdown. Birds Eye has, for example, reappropriated material from its ‘Eat in Full Colour’ campaign designed to encourage children to eat vegetables.

Koppens asked agency partner Fresh Heather to devise a variety of craft and activity ideas for children that could be uploaded to the hub, based on the Eat in Full Colour campaign.

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Meanwhile, the in-house graphic designer has been creating posters that children can print out to brighten up their rooms and the plan is to release colouring-in sheets. These resources are coupled with recipe ideas, as well as hacks on how to freeze and defrost food safely, and reinvigorate mealtimes.

“We’re not trying to set this up and say we have the answer to everything, because we know that’s not the case. We know this is a very serious time,” says Koppens.

“But at the same time if you are looking for some reliable advice from a brand you trust, or you are looking for a bit of light entertainment you know is going to be safe and educative, any consumer can come onto that website. We will see how it develops over time.”

New ways of working

Turning a campaign around in 18 days is far from the norm for a brand like Birds Eye. Normally, Koppens explains, a brief would arrive that was shared with each of the individual markets for input.

Then the team would review a number of scripts and undergo qualitative consumer research to get a steer on things, before engaging in neuro-testing to understand how consumers are reacting to the creative.

Birds Eye’s Green Cuisine range of pea protein products.

“We knew from speaking to our insights colleagues, as well as our external agencies, that there’s no testing being run at the moment, because the situation is so exceptional that there’s no way for you to know what kind of read you would get and how reliable it would be. People are in a very unusual mind space,” Koppens explains.

“That meant we had to use our creative judgement. Having a group of people across different markets, and at all different stages of lockdown, was helpful because Italy could say ‘We’re three weeks ahead, but we still think it’s right for us’. It was a way of being as confident as we could, in the absence of any more robust consumer testing.”

Having the luxury of time and face-to-face meetings can often mean you get lost in the idea, whereas with this process the team could never lose sight of what was important. A greater focus was put on the mood and tonality of the advert. The marketers also wanted the music to be optimistic, not necessarily upbeat but equally not too sombre or introspective.

“Because we haven’t had the flexibility of choosing a director and not being able to be more specific about the images, there are areas where – if we had all the time in the world and if we were shooting this from scratch – we’d be doing things differently, but that’s not the environment we’re operating in,” Koppens adds.

“We have to be pragmatic and say, what are the really important things here?”



There is one comment at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. David Burdon 7 Apr 2020

    Err. Food sales through grocery outlets are up as pubs, restaurants and cafes are closed. This isn’t about a responsibility or duty to advertise. It is simple business sense. Why would a food manufacturer cut advertising when the battle for volume, market share and profitability is likely to offer increased opportunity?

    If you were a travel marketer the tune would be completely different.

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