Bisto unveils first new ad in six years amid £4m push to reach next generation 

The gravy brand is rolling out a new campaign ahead of the Christmas season, as parent company Premier Foods focuses on “mission critical” brand building across its wider portfolio.

Maintaining brand investment is “mission critical” for Premier Foods, which is hoping to capitalise on a year of “transformational” growth with the rollout of a £4m campaign for Bisto.

This is the first new creative in six years for the gravy brand, which has emerged as a “standout” performer in the Premier Foods portfolio. Attracting more than 1 million new households over the past year, growth is in large part down to customers trading up to the premium Bisto Best range.

The brand’s success under lockdown is in the context of “strong double-digit” growth across the company, which as a whole has attracted 4.5 million new households since the onset of Covid.

With Premier Foods having committed to creating “emotionally engaging” advertising for its core brands, the new campaign is designed to promote Bisto’s relevance to a new generation of consumers, particularly young families, over the “key winter season”. The creative heroes Bisto Best products, which over the past year have delivered 30.8% in value growth, ahead of wider category growth at 22%.

Running from 12 October until March 2022, the advert retains Bisto’s core theme of togetherness, which kicked off in 2015 with ‘Spare Chair Sunday’, a campaign encouraging families to combat loneliness by inviting an older person over for Sunday lunch.

Premier Foods CMO Yilmaz Erceyes explains that most of the company’s brand building campaigns are developed with a view to being “timeless” and the creative is only updated once the team feels a change is needed.

“When it came to looking at the new [Bisto] execution we asked ourselves, ‘Do we need to create a new campaign and change direction?’. But there was absolutely no reason to because the ‘Togetherness’ campaign we’ve been driving we know connects emotionally with consumers, builds our brands, drives sales and strengthens share within the category,” he says.

“We saw absolutely no reason to change the strategy or overhaul the campaign idea of togetherness, but we are bringing a really fresh execution, which all our pre-testing says has great potential for connecting with consumers and building that brand equity.”

Innovation is absolutely critical, it’s the lifeblood of our business and every brand in our portfolio has to have a three-year innovation pipeline.

Yilmaz Erceyes, Premier Foods

This time the togetherness theme shifts to shine a light on friendship and the role a Sunday roast plays in uniting a pair of friends from childhood to motherhood, concluding with the pals introducing their own daughters to the tradition of sharing mealtimes.

“When you’re having a roast with your friends you’re there to build some bonds and share some stories. It’s not transactional, it’s not on-the-go eating,” Erceyes notes.

“When we did consumer research analysing what [happened] if we portrayed that togetherness by bringing friends together, we got some incredible reaction from our consumers and that was true during the pandemic. Although the work happened throughout the pandemic, there is some timelessness about bringing friends together and the importance of friends in your life.”

He describes Bisto as one of the nation’s favourite brands, boasting close to 50% household penetration, which means roughly one in two homes buy the gravy brand at least once a year. While such high levels of awareness would make it easy for a brand to take its foot off the gas, the belief at Premier Foods is consistent brand building helps keep products relevant for generations.

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While this is a new execution, the ‘Aah Bisto’ tagline remains at the end of the ad, a core distinctive asset Erceyes insists the brand will never move away from. Having such a distinctive brand cue is not something he takes for granted, with Erceyes characterising such assets as the biggest drivers of effectiveness.

“Everything you do as marketers needs to make your brand come to consumers’ minds easily in all relevant consumption and purchase occasions. If you have some distinctive assets that you keep leveraging it creates a very quick shortcut and your comms become a lot more effective,” he explains.

Unless there is a “massive strategic reason” to change a distinctive asset the Premier Foods CMO would not advise doing so, although he sees a wider trend in the FMCG sector to reposition far too often.

“Developing a distinctive asset takes a lot of time, consistency, investment and money. You would be throwing away the effect you achieved over the past decades if your distinctive asset has been around that long, which is true for Bisto. If you’re trying to create a new distinctive asset you’re throwing away all that investment and the halo effect of that investment,” says Erceyes.

“Sometimes we underestimate how difficult it is to create a distinctive asset and sometimes we believe we have a distinctive asset behind our brands, but actually in consumers’ minds it is not. They can’t associate that with your brand if they’re exposed to it. So, it takes a lot of investment and consistency. There might be times when you need to replace it, but you do it at your own peril.”

In fact, Premier Foods has a track record of reinstating its distinctive brand assets. In 2016, the company brought back the ‘Exceedingly good cakes’ tagline to the Mr Kipling brand as part of a £4m push and last year returned with ‘Devon knows how they make it so creamy’ for its latest Ambrosia campaign.

Erceyes believes these assets are timeless, with the ability to “amplify” effectiveness by tapping into existing memory structures in consumers’ minds.

Finding the best mix

When it comes to measuring effectiveness, the Premier Foods CMO describes himself as simultaneously taking a data-led approach, while also being aware of the limitations of data.

He explains that his team use their judgement and understanding of consumers, combined with an appreciation of the ultimate objective, to create campaigns that build brand equity. The team analyse the impact by measuring how quickly the brand comes to people’s minds in the relevant consumption and purchase occasions.

In the case of the new Bisto campaign, the objective is to keep building the brand and strengthening its distinctive assets, alongside tracking short-term returns.

“When we look at all our brand campaigns across the board and do the marketing mix modelling after the campaign period, we always see even the short-term return on investment is significantly ahead of industry benchmarks and averages,” says Erceyes.

“We all know these campaigns have even more important long-term impact, but short term as well is really doing well for us and we want to continue to keep that track record in the new Bisto campaign.”

The new Bisto campaign celebrates the power of friendship, grown over a Sunday roast.

The campaign includes a partnership with Global Radio and represents Bisto’s biggest ever in-store Christmas activation, as well as a major TV push.

Premier Foods is a big believer in the power of TV, with six of its brands – Mr Kipling, Bisto, Oxo, Batchelor’s, Sharwood’s and Ambrosia – all on air this year.

Erceyes explains the company frequently uses TV due to the high household penetration of its brands. The belief is that the most effective way of sustaining brand equity and driving further penetration is to leverage a mass reach medium like TV.

“It also has to be effective from a cost per reach point of view and although the dynamics are changing, if you look today in the UK in FMCG the best, most effective way of reaching masses – and delivering that rich audio visual stimuli that drives brand equity, engages consumers and drives that emotional connection – is TV,” he argues.

However, Erceyes insists the team does not approach campaigns with a mindset of: ‘We like TV, let’s do TV’. Instead, the marketers consider the objectives and decide the best way of meeting them.

During lockdown, for example, Premier Foods attracted millions of new consumers to its brands who were unaccustomed to cooking at home. Keen to retain these shoppers and reach a targeted demographic, who research showed were using the products in different ways, Erceyes’ team devised a digital campaign running across multiple brands. The creative featured hacks, such as using Ambrosia custard to make a quick crème brûlée or crumbling an Oxo stock cube into Bolognese sauce to intensify the flavour.

“Those types of use occasions and consumption you don’t see in our above the line campaigns because they need to show the most common use of the brand, but to drive reappraisal the best way we’ve found is via digital,” he explains.

“There was no TV behind that campaign. We’ve done effectiveness analysis and even the short-term ROI proved to be the same as our TV campaigns. They are as effective, but they were doing a different strategic job.”

Backing the strategy

Innovation remains at the heart of the plans at Premier Foods. Erceyes considers innovation the only way to deliver long-term sustainable growth given the need to keep pace with consumer needs. He says the business spends a lot of time and resources on gaining insights from consumers, which translate into innovation.

The Premier Foods CMO points to the Bisto Southern Style gravy granules launched in February 2020. Developed pre-pandemic, the idea of recreating the southern fried chicken experience at home proved particularly popular under lockdown when restaurant dining was off the menu.

“Innovation is absolutely critical, it’s the lifeblood of our business and every brand in our portfolio has to have a three-year innovation pipeline without exception, because we know that unless we keep innovating and keep that brand proposition relevant to current consumer desires, changing palettes and new flavours then gradually we will lose relevance,” says Erceyes.

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The plan for 2021 and beyond is to keep investing in marketing. All the big six brands will remain on air, with Bisto and Oxo coming onto screens for autumn due to the seasonality of the products.

The Premier Foods CMO is convinced of the need to keep investing in brands even when you’re the market leader, because otherwise you risk losing relevance in the mid to long term.

“For us it’s mission critical. Innovation and brand building-led growth is at the core of our growth strategy as a company and our business model is we innovate, we invest in our brands, we deliver leading growth and part of that growth we reinvest into our brands,” Erceyes explains.

“Our objective is to keep driving that virtuous cycle. We were really successful doing it even three years prior to the pandemic. Obviously, the pandemic caused a huge boost in our business thanks to the fact we’ve been able to keep colleagues safe and our operations going.”

He concludes that the marketing-fuelled model which has helped Premier Foods deliver four years of growth is working “brilliantly” and the company has no intention of changing that strategy any time soon.