Why Walkers and Lineker have a marriage made to last, plus 5 of Gary's funniest ads

The partnership between ex-footballer and TV presenter Gary Lineker and Walkers has entered its 21st year and Walkers recently raised the bar by enlisting football superstar Lionel Messi for a TV spot promoting its Champions League tie-up. Marketing takes a look at this enduring brand partnership and picks out the best Walkers ads from down the years.

Walkers Crisps and Gary Lineker could be shorthand for a strong relationship. One stat that Lineker probably won’t want reminding of is that the union has actually lasted longer than either of his marriages. At one point, Walkers named a crisp flavour after the other half of its partnership: Salt and Lineker.

It was a big risk for us but it’s the best thing we did

Industry insiders are in no doubt that the tie up is marketing gold. As James Boulton, the one time marketing director of Walkers observed: "Walkers continues to be one of the best marketed packaged goods brands in the UK."

Another former Walkers marketing boss, Martin Glenn, the celebrated marketer turned CEO who oversaw the launch of the ads, believes there is a quality of a narrative being passed from one generation of Walkers marketer to another which has kept the ads going. But even he is surprised it’s gone on this long.

Glenn, now the CEO of the FA, says: "It’s absolutely fantastic that it is still going. Our intention was a campaign not a one-off but you wouldn’t have thought it would have gone on this long.

The Lineker magic ingredient

Lineker was originally signed to Walkers in 1994 in a £200,000 deal. Glenn said: "It was a big risk for us but it’s the best thing we did."

Glenn admitted that there was the odd duff advert in the back catalogue but he stressed that overall the average is very good.

While the Lineker ads are usually humorous promotions for the crisps, the brand has also used him for its health messaging. In the "Just thought you’d like to know" campaign, a sombre Lineker informs viewers that a packet of its crisps now had "70% less fat".

So what is the Lineker magic ingredient? It turns out that it is his very ordinariness which is at the heart of his appeal.

"He’s the average age of the population," Glenn said, adding, "He’s not out of touch with the population demographic, he’s salient."

Boulton agreed. "Weak advertising briefs often say the target audience is "everyone" but in the case of Walkers this is really true. Gary is a personality that crosses the generations, he has extremely broad appeal to both men and women," he said.

Weak advertising briefs often say the target audience is "everyone" but in the case of Walkers this is really true

It is for that reason that there is a consensus that the Gary and Walkers show still has legs. Boulton’s guess is that there could be another decade left in it. Walkers’ brand owner Pepsico says it’s booked to run for the next 12 months with Lineker featuring in Walkers ads throughout the year. Just this week Walkers Tear ‘n’ Share TV campaign started with football pundits Alan Hansen, Jamie Redknapp and Lineker, naturally.

Glenn believes the longevity of the the series offers wider lessons for marketers: "I have a view that brand managers get bored of campaigns before the general public does. Renovation and refreshing are harder to do than a new direction but ultimately you’ll make more money, he says, adding: "Don’t move off something until you think you have something better."

Marketing’s pick of Walkers TV ads


Welcome Home

This feel good ad was Lineker’s first for Walkers in 1995 and coincides with him returning to England to start a media career after ending his footballing days in Japan. Gary is the local boy made good, who gives the thumbs up to fans and kisses babies and winks at mums. But our Gary also has a cheeky side and walks off with a little boy’s packet of Walkers crisps. Walkers’ US bosses were originally concerned that the crisps were not returned to the boy but their UK counterparts went ahead anyway.


Gary and Gazza united

Remember Italia 90? Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma and Gazza bursting into tears. In this ad Lineker is in the stands watching a football match and chomping crisps. When Gazza tries taking his crisps Lineker squeezes his hand and poor old Gazza bursts into tears, jets of them accompanied by Nessun Dorma.


Victoria Beckham launches Sensations

This launch ad for premium crisp variant Sensations sees Victoria Beckham sending herself up by playing up to her ‘posh’ reputation. It channels Adam Ant videos and sends up Posh and Becks’ wedding as well.


The Stairlift

This snappy 30 second ad has Lineker as a stairlift engineer who won’t let an old lady nick his crisps. She has the last laugh however, pulling a stairlift lever which sends him rocketing up the stairs and out of the window.


Table football with Lionel Messi

Is Lionel Messi the highest paid star to grace a Walkers ad? In this spot, using some nifty table football work the Barcelona superstar footballer contrives to make a cup fall on Lineker’s head. The ad promotes Walkers’ sponsorship of the UEFA Champions League.

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