Brand in remission: Kit Kat

LONDON - The Nestlé brand has reversed a sales decline by focusing on fewer variants

Kit Kat
Kit Kat

Remember Kit Kat Kubes or its 'low-carb' variant, no doubt inspired by the popularity of the Atkins diet?

It is likely that you were oblivious to these ill-fated brand extensions, which were rolled out by Nestlé at the start of the decade, not to mention its white chocolate, lemon and yoghurt and Seville orange variants.

However, the more the brand extended itself, the further its sales declined. Commentators labelled Kit Kat's incoherent strategy a textbook example of how excessive digressions can damage a brand.

The turmoil in Kit Kat's sales was mirrored in the boardroom of brand owner Nestlé. In 2003, managing director Chris White, who had just joined Nestlé, declared that it was in crisis. Weeks later, marketing director Andrew Harrison left, and White went on to axe the long-standing strapline 'Have a break, have a Kit Kat'.

Since those dark days the brand has made a remarkable recovery - and re-introduced its famous strapline. It has pared back the number of variants and, last year, with the launch of Kit Kat Senses, managed to achieve the marketer's dream: an extension that has managed to grow, rather than cannibalise, sales.

Senses, aimed at women, was backed by a £9m marketing spend. The campaign was spearheaded by ads created by Kit Kat's long-standing agency JWT and featuring pop group Girls Aloud. Nestlé also used the brand to sponsor a Girls Aloud tour.

The launch of the variant helped drive a 30% increase in total sales, and Kit Kat is now the fastest-growing confectionery brand in the UK.

We asked Mark Simester, Kit Kat's marketing manager, and Chris Cowpe, founder of marketing consultancy The Caffeine Partnership, to provide their prognosis for the brand.


Mark Simester marketing manager, Kit Kat

Last year was a success for Kit Kat. We refocused display activity on the core product range and launched Kit Kat Senses. The latter helped us to end the year as the fastest-growing confectionery brand in the UK.

To achieve this, we have focused on product quality with an obsessive attention to detail. We have also taken the elements of the Kit Kat brand that make it part of everyday family life and updated them.

The 'Stop working like a machine and have a break, have a Kit Kat' advertising campaign, which broke in January, is based on the insight that people today are caught up in the monotony of everyday life and need a break more than ever before.

We have a range of Kit Kat products that fulfil a variety of occasions. The 'two finger' is the UK's number-one biscuit, a family staple in biscuit tins across the country. The 'four finger' is aimed at consumers having a coffee break at home or at work. Chunky, meanwhile, satisfies a bigger appetite, and Senses has been designed for women seeking an indulgent treat.

Kit Kat appeals to people of all ages. It survived World War II, increased sales during the recession in the early 90s, and is growing during the current economic difficulties.

The latter is occurring for one reason: in hard times, people turn to what they know and what they trust - in this case, an affordable chocolate bar. They turn to a brand that reminds them of childhood days gone by; a brand that is exactly what people need to give them a break from it all.


Chris Cowpe partner, The Caffeine Partnership

Kit Kat is 74 years old and still flourishing - proof that a strong, well-managed brand can not only survive, but enjoy success over many years.

This is one of those rare products that continues to grow. It has endured difficult times, but it is wonderful to witness its current success.

The ingredients of the Kit Kat story are clearly visible. It is a simple product that straddles two market sectors - confectionery and biscuits. The brand has a cautious, but powerful, extension strategy with Chunky and Senses, and its positioning is based on the immortal slogan, 'Have a break, have a Kit Kat', which poetically describes the product's selling point. This is marketing at its best - simple, clear and consistent.

Senses has revitalised the range with the added glamour of pop group Girls Aloud. In addition, Kit Kat is exploring online possibilities, including the disarmingly charming 'The First Worldwide Website Where Nothing Happens'.

To ensure this success continues, Kit Kat must watch closely the sales of Senses and its interaction with the rest of the range - is it a Chunky, or is it more transient? Either way, it must plan a successor to the variant now.

Kit Kat must continue to expand and explore the communication possibilities of the 'break'. It should invite all previous Kit Kat marketers and agency partners to a celebration party. However, invitations should be extended only to those prepared to share their insight on the brand, which can then be passed onto, and used by, its present marketers.