campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 28 August 2009 12:00AM
To paraphrase the old transport cliche, you wait 34 years for a new Hovis commercial and two come along at once.
Well, almost. Jon Goldstone, the Hovis marketing director, still hasn't quite got over the sensation created by the "go on lad" spot when it appeared last September and wants to ensure nothing is left to chance when the follow-up film goes on air, some time next year.
"We don't want to rush something out," he says. "We have to be 100 per cent about it. We've set ourselves a high standard and we're dedicated to maintaining it."
Goldstone's determination to ensure everything is all right on the night is understandable. "Go on lad" - a £1 million-plus blockbuster featuring a boy time-travelling through the 122 years of the Hovis brand, having been sent to buy a loaf - has been a hit to rival Ridley Scott's "boy on a bike" spot from 1974, while generating acres of PR.
Goldstone recalls watching the commercial - all 122 seconds of it - at an Oxford cinema on the day it was released: "Ten seconds into the ad, the audience went into a stunned silence. You could have heard a pin drop. It was a real 'oh my God' moment."
It was also a defining one for Hovis, beginning the rehabilitation of a once iconic British brand that had become so stale that it would have ended up being fed to the ducks within two years had its decline not been arrested.
That it hasn't just survived but significantly boosted its market share is testament to the faith, and the money, its incoming owner, Premier Foods, has been prepared to invest in it. That's reflected in the fact that the £14 million-worth of advertising support for the brand through Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy and Starcom is up by about 20 per cent on last year.
And its latest results would attest that the investment has paid off. As well as revealing that Hovis had sold 150,000 more loaves than for the same period in 2008, it also showed that its share of the market increased by 3.6 per cent to 26.3 per cent.
It's a far cry from two years ago when Hovis entered the Premier stable via its £2 billion takeover of RHM. After a string of acquisitions, Premier needed to focus on the brands it could grow organically. And in Premier, Hovis is clearly no longer an endangered species. "We know our brands are our greatest asset," Goldstone remarks. "Marketing couldn't be more essential to an organisation than it is here."
Hovis, now boasting that "it's as good as it's always been", was nowhere near delivering on its promise when Goldstone took it on. Worse, sales were heading south. In January 2006, Hovis and its arch-rival Warburtons were running neck-and-neck, each having a market share of about 28 per cent.
By May last year, Warburtons had a sizeable lead with a 32 per cent share. Hovis, meanwhile, had dipped to 22 per cent. Goldstone cites three reasons for the slump: RHM, having put up a "for sale" sign, had compromised on Hovis' quality, marketing support was poor and a lack of organic growth had led to price offers. "Consumers thought that if the bread was on deal, it must be stale," he says.
Premier's answer was to invest in making the product better - baking a more popular-sized loaf - while recruiting the branding agency JKR to redesign its packaging.
The job of articulating all this to the public fell to MCBD, which had successfully pitched for the Hovis account against the incumbent, McCann Erickson, the other Premier Foods roster agency. "You've asked us to be the best we can possibly be," Helen Calcraft, MCBD's chief executive, told Goldstone on getting the brief to make Hovis special again. "That doesn't happen very often."
Launched on a tide of PR activity, "go on lad" has been a major factor in getting Hovis back on course. The brand has clawed back some of the ground lost to Warburtons - its 27 per cent market share compares with Warburtons' 32 per cent - and Goldstone's declared intent is that Hovis will depose it as market leader. However, he's under no illusions about the scale of the task.
"It will take a while," he acknowledges. "Warburtons is a very well-run company which doesn't make mistakes." Meanwhile, he's keeping the momentum going by continuing to air "go on lad" around specific programmes such as the Bafta Awards and Dancing On Ice. Underpinning it has been a range of product-based initiatives such as The Wholemeal Challenge, fronted by the former Spice Girl Emma Bunton, as well as initiatives to support its rolls range and the Best of Both brand. "This is clearly the time to invest," Goldstone declares. "Those who take their feet off the pedal at this time will regret it in the long term."
At the same time, Goldstone is moving the brand into digital, albeit cautiously. Most of The Wholemeal Challenge activity took place online and Agency Republic has been hired to map out a three-year digital strategy. "I feel I should have a person looking at what we could do with Twitter," he adds. "But social media will never be a core area of activity for us."
Does he feel that marketing communications - in whatever form - represent value for money? Goldstone thinks so. Procurement specialists ensure this, he says. But he insists: "They don't get in the way. They don't block good work and I don't believe our agencies think that they do."
The result, he claims, is a very tightly managed operation all the way from the media-buying agency to the PR specialist.
"There's no point in me squeezing our agencies at a time when I need the best possible work from them," he says. "At the same time, I don't want them taking the piss. We've not used the recession to force through lower remuneration levels. I don't expect the fees we pay to rise after the recession ends because we've never really forced them down in the first place."
However, if the next ad is as good as the last one, he may want to put the fees up anyway.
THE GOLDSTONE LOWDOWN
- Everything but the girls
Born in High Wycombe, Jon Goldstone set out on his career with a geography degree from Nottingham University. Why geography? "I happened to enjoy it." Why Nottingham? "Somebody told me there were seven women students for every man. It wasn't true." His route into marketing took him via market research, which included a spell at TNS. However, he came to realise that the job had its limitations. "When I was presenting to marketing people, I realised they had the best job in the world because they got to turn the data into ideas," he says.
- From Cracker Barrel to Croatia
After joining Kraft as a market researcher, he moved into brand management, first to make the company's Cracker Barrel cheese brand a more potent competitor to Dairy Crest's Cathedral City, and later on Toblerone. His next move was to Coca-Cola and a brief to set up a marketing operation in Croatia. "The country had been torn apart by war," he says. "But there was much optimism - Croatia reached the semi-finals of the 1998 World Cup - and we could capitalise on that."
- Making dough for Hovis
Back in Britain, he worked briefly for Campbell's before switching to PepsiCo to look after Doritos and to launch the premium Sensations brand. Premier Foods headhunted him to revive the fortunes of Hovis at the beginning of last year.
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk