Walkers renewed flagging interest in new flavours by ripping up its brand development rule book and getting consumers deeply involved in product development.
- Walkers decided to shake up the increasingly sluggish reception to new flavours by turning its traditional approach to new flavour development on its head.
- Its new strategy of user-generated flavours was based on inviting consumers to come up with new flavour ideas and then get the nation to vote on the winner, bringing brand engagement to new levels.
- To ensure widespread participation and debate the campaign ran across more consumer touchpoints than ever before.
Walkers is the UK’s favourite crisps brand and Britain’s largest crisp manufacturer, with 16 ranges of crisps and snacks including Walkers Sensations, Doritos and Quavers. It was bought by PepsiCo in 1989.
In 2008/09, Walkers tore up its rule book and launched a radical new campaign to breathe new life into the way the company developed and talked about its flavours by inviting consumers to come up with new flavours. It was a risk, it was a headache, and it was a spectacular success. The business had truly never seen anything like ‘Do us a flavour’.
Over the campaign period, the ‘Do us a flavour’ idea outperformed category year-on-year sales growth by 68%. Walkers also achieved its highest value market share for three years. It attracted a deep level of consumer interaction with the brand, with over a million flavour suggestions. Even more significantly, it showed how a marketing idea could affect every aspect of the business.
Getting flavour back on the map
In 2007, Walkers and its agencies came up with an idea that bent the rules of ‘business as usual’.
It came in direct response to a critical business issue: delivering great flavours to tantalise the nation’s taste buds had been a fundamental part of the Walkers success story, but in recent times the traditional go-to-market model for launching great tasting flavour news had become less effective. Year on year, flavour news just wasn’t selling the way it used to (Figure 1).
The objective was to turn around this decline in sales impact with an idea that could make Walkers’ flavour news irresistible once again. After all, when it comes to crisps, flavour is the single most important attribute that drives perceptions of taste, and taste is the key driver of sales (Figure 2).
But if recent efforts at flavour-focused communication had failed to excite the public’s imagination, it was clear that Walkers needed to look at a new approach—a fresh way to breathe life into flavour news. The brand team and its agencies found it by shedding any preconceptions about how far the business could be taken outside of its traditional marketing model.
The big idea took shape amid a spirit of having nothing off-limits, and was built on two basic consumer truths:
- Everyone has got a point of view about what would make a great crisps flavour.
- People are passionate about their favourite flavour.
The idea was simple yet audacious. The company would open up Walkers’ brand, product development and decision-making by asking the nation to ’Do Us a Flavour’ and get them to create the next great Walkers flavour (Figure 3).
The campaign would work across three phases.
- The nation was invited to send in their flavour suggestions.
- An expert panel selected six flavour finalists which Walkers would actually produce and launch.
- The nation would then vote to decide the eventual winner and new addition to the Walkers range. In a revolutionary promotional model, the winner would be offered a £50,000 prize along with 1% of all future sales of their flavour.
It was an idea which would shatter industry conventions, and stretch the parameters of what was thought possible for the business to deliver.
No more business as usual
To make it happen would involve re-writing every rule in the book:
- Developing a new flavour takes a long time (26 weeks, give or take). This idea meant that research and development (R&D) would need to master six new irresistible flavours in just six weeks. And they weren’t the normal kind of flavours: Chilli & Chocolate, Cajun Squirrel, Onion Bhaji, Crispy Duck and Hoisin and Fish and Chips (Figure 4 ).
- Designing and producing new packaging takes a minimum of two and a half months. It would now have to be done in just six weeks.
- The production line can handle a maximum of four new flavours at any one time. It would now have to produce six.
- Retailers are reluctant to list any more than one or two new flavours at a time. Walkers would have to get them excited enough to carry all six (even in the smallest corner shops).
- The standard promotional slot is four weeks. To work in the way it was intended, Do Us A Flavour would need to maintain consumer engagement over a whole year.
This would be a daunting challenge. It was critically important that the marketing team and its agencies had a full and proper understanding of how far it was possible to stretch the business through every step of the process. And it was just as important that the other parts of the company, including R&D, the sales team and people on the factory floor, had the full picture of what the campaign was trying to do and why. Success would depend on this synergy of marketing with the business’s other capabilities.
Covering all the media bases
The media strategy also threw up complex challenges for the marketing team and their agencies, as it aimed to engage consumers across more touchpoints than ever before. The media principle was to ‘fuel flavour debate’— get the nation talking about the competition to make participation and enthusiasm spread.
Phase 1 involved a 360-degree plan to drive people to the walkers.co.uk website to submit their suggestions. Jointly-viewed TV airtime and rich media in online community sites stimulated people to invent and discuss their flavour ideas with one another. Walkers also launched its first WAP site and increased its e-customer relationship management fanbase to more than 600,000 consumers. Radio DJs hosted ‘flavour sports day’ promotions. The ‘Flavour Army’ took flavour fun to the streets, to events and onto Facebook.
The media plan in phase 3 set out to recreate the feel of a general election. This, after all, was an issue of national importance, in which every responsible citizen should take a side. The aim was not only to get consumers to vote, but to be vocal about which flavours they loved (as well as those which they didn’t). Rich online and mobile advertising for each flavour encouraged people to vote to keep their favourite. Finalists collected ‘grass roots’ support through online communities, including individual campaign pages on Facebook. Tying ‘the election’ together, the ‘campaign trail’ was filmed and broadcast in a behind-the-scenes documentary series with Yahoo TV: ‘Do Us a Flavour News’.
Finally, after weeks of frantic campaigning and voting, there was a winner. The nation chose Builders’ Breakfast to be the next new Walkers flavour. News of the result was splashed all over the national press and, of course, was broken in ‘Do Us a Flavour News’.
Winning in every way
‘Do us a flavour’ idea engaged the public for almost a year and the campaign enjoyed exceptional results:
- Over one million flavour suggestions were received — 1,213,853 to be exact — three times the original forecast.
- Over a million votes were cast by the time the winner was announced on May 6th 2009.
- There were 4.3 million visits to walkers.co.uk with four-to-nine minutes spent on site.
- Over 700 pieces of public relations (PR) coverage worth an estimated at £6.5 million were generated.
- The company attracted 27,000 fans to Facebook as well as 820,000 video views on the website, Yahoo and other sites.
Not only did the campaign change behaviour, but more importantly, brand perceptions and the business were changed:
- The brand saw increases in advertising recall across all media (+7% on average), and positive image shifts, not just on flavour associations but also innovation (+14%), and popularity (+15%).
- The campaign drove +4.4 brand penetration, especially among younger, more upmarket buyers (so important to a brand’s future).
- It also significantly increased the average number of flavours among core Walkers buyers (from 2.9 to 4.8).
- Over the campaign period, the crisps and snacks category grew +8.7% in sales value year-on-year (YOY). The ‘Do us a flavour’ idea outperformed this by a considerable margin, delivering a +14.7% YOY sales value uplift. Walkers also achieved its highest value market share for three years.
Beyond the numbers, ‘Do us a flavour’ brought out the best in hundreds of Walkers employees across the whole organisation.
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