I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter launched amid a flurry of controversy. It capitalised on this and followed through with a brash TV campaign which used butter’s sacred dairy cows in Spitting Image form. The product has gone on to secure high brand awareness in what is now a competitive market

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter was launched in 1991 in a far from buoyant market. The brand had been successful in the US and the plan was to replicate that success in the UK. However, days before the launch the TV advertising was banned due to an unresolved issue surrounding the legality of the word “butter” in the brand name.

Despite the threat of legal action, the press was persuaded to run ICBINB advertising, so the proposed TV budget was shifted into a concentrated 11-day press blitz. In order to stir up as much controversy as possible the TV ban became the core creative idea. Once the ban was lifted, it was necessary to develop a TV campaign that continued the style and tone of the launch.

Since its launch, the brand has spurned a number of copycat products, the largest of which is Unigate/Kraft’s Utterly Butterly. Competition from retailer own-label is prolific: Butterlicious, Butter Me Up, You’ll Mutter It’s Butter, Don’t Flutter with Butter, You’d Butter Believe, You’ll Never Believe It, Believe It or Not.

The proposition on the first TV brief was: “ICBINB is the ballsy brand that offers the taste of butter with virtually no cholesterol.”

The ads have a brash, intrusive personality and are targeted at C1, C2 housewives with children who tend to be lively, out-going and “down to earth”.

A distinctive ICBINB consumer emerged as someone who loves novelty, has an indulgent streak, likes to be entertained and enjoys advertising and entering competitions.

The “Cow World” campaign was developed against this brief. The TV ads broke the mould by using Spitting Image cows. It encroached on butter’s sacred turf by using dairy symbols: forbidden territory for non-butter spreads. This in itself was an invitation to controversy.

The cows have become a distinctive branding device. To consumers cows equal butter, which equals great taste. Marry this with levels of impact, which the cow’s antics generate, and it is not surprising that brand share has continued to grow every year.

Apart from the main campaign, it was important to use an understanding of the consumer to reinforce the brand’s distinct personality in other ways. An example of this was the launch of “Launderette” in 1996. Viewers were asked to “spot the difference” in two versions of virtually the same ad, and 47,000 responses against a target of 12,000 were received.

After only two months in a highly-fragmented market, ICBINB achieved a two per cent volume share. By 1996 the category spend was approximately 33m, ICBINB spent 4.3m, equating to a share of voice of 13 per cent, and had a volume share of 6.8 per cent.

The controversy surrounding this “illegal” brand and its “stroppy” advertising generated 90 minutes of free airtime and within a month of the ads breaking, brand awareness had climbed to 38 per cent with advertising awareness at 26 per cent. The latest film “Cowfile” was aired in April and has an above-average index for the industry, showing that the campaign continues to be distinctive.


Marketing manager: gill noble

Marketing fats & oils: hilary mcarthur


Account director: carol butterworth

Media Planning: kester fielding

Director in charge: richard dowdle

INDUSTRY Viewpoint

Belinda Gooding

Group marketing director Dairy Crest

The I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter brand has succeeded in working hard to achieve impact in a dynamic and increasingly competitive market.

Cut-through was achieved using the quirkiness of the brand name and the anarchic style of the advertising. The name clearly stated the brand’s positioning in a completely novel and daring way. The Spitting Image cows campaign has been an intrinsic part of the brand’s success. The use of one of the symbols of the dairy industry in an anarchic fashion gained immediate impact and awareness, as well as reinforcing the brand’s personality. Support for the brand from launch has been consistent in terms of strategy and weight. The result has been good volume growth, good share growth and decent levels of penetration.

The latest commercial in the campaign retains all of the revolutionary characteristics of the initial launch material. It uses the setting of the popular and familiar TV show Crimewatch as its vehicle with the cows adding the brand values and fun.

The brand has now reached a crossroad. Its initial success has stagnated and share is in decline. Competition has increased with innovative launches such as Anchor Spreadable Butter and Lurpak Spreadable, both of which are well supported and successful. Existing brands in the market such as Utterly Butterly, which is so close to ICBINB in name and positioning, is growing strongly.

The issue ICBINB now faces is how long can this campaign continue to run. If the Spitting Image cows are beginning to be seen as passé instead of anarchic, then the commercials are no longer breaking new ground and are at odds with the brand character. At best they may be seen as tired, at worst the brand may find itself saddled with an outmoded icon rather like the PG Tips chimpanzees.

The enigmatic nature of the scripts, which are packed with brand information, require consumers to work to access the messages. This brave strategy worked well and will continue to work as long as the commercials are seen as new and different.

The Anchor Spreadable commercial takes the existing home territory of the brand and adds a new twist to it. It succeeds in communicating the product news and retains the umbrella brand identity in a refreshing way.

ICBINB set out to be the Tango of the dairy spreads world. It brought a freshness to the category which appealed to consumers and which made the industry sit up and take notice. It would be a shame if it lost its way or lost its earlier courage.


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