INTERNATIONAL: SPONSORED BY MOTHER TONGUE WRITERS - Will reformers or traditionalists win the battle for Ferrero?/Michele Martin assesses if Ferrero is ready to take a fresh look at marketing

Ferrero, the family-run Italian chocolate company, is famous for two things - good chocolate and lousy ads. So it was no surprise to hear last month that someone in the organisation had begun talking to four international agency networks about possible changes to the way it runs its advertising.

Ferrero, the family-run Italian chocolate company, is famous for

two things - good chocolate and lousy ads. So it was no surprise to hear

last month that someone in the organisation had begun talking to four

international agency networks about possible changes to the way it runs

its advertising.



Months after initial contacts with agencies, however, Ferrero still

looks a long way from making any changes as two broad factions - the

reformers and the traditionalists - vie for influence over the company’s

marketing policy.



To the reformers, Ferrero, which produces brands such as Tic Tac, Kinder

Surprise, Nutella and Ferrero Rocher, is one of Europe’s five biggest

advertisers - and yet much of its advertising seems to be invisible.



The traditionalists, on the other hand, subscribe to the view that ’if

it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ and point to the company’s existing

performance as proof that its current piecemeal approach to advertising

works. The group has grown by an average of 18 per cent per year between

1985-95, according to the Italian newspaper, Il Mondo.



The company was founded in the 1920s and 30s as a family-owned

patisserie developing spreads and confectionery in the local town of

Piedmont. By the 1950s Michele Ferrero had taken over the company from

his father and had begun expanding the group overseas, launching key

brands including Mon Cherie, Kinder and Tic Tac. Still heavily

influenced by him today, the company continues to run its marketing

centrally, with Michele often generating ideas for brands and their

advertising.



However, this summer a centralised marketing department was set up in

Luxembourg, partly overseen by Michele’s 32-year-old son, Giovanni, a

marketing graduate who studied in the US.



This department includes Brian Olivares who has worked at Young &

Rubicam New York and Jane Murphy, whose career spans Ogilvy & Mather New

York as well as other parts of the Ferrero empire. One of the unit’s

aims appears to have been to explore ways of modernising marketing.



It was this unit which has approached the agency networks, said to be

McCann-Erickson, TBWA, Leo Burnett and the Lowe group.



The company itself, however, has always strenuously downplayed any

agency contacts: ’We have seen some agencies, but only to check if they

have any new research or strategic tools that might help us,’ one

anonymous source says.



But few industry observers doubt that Ferrero could do with a fresh eye

on its advertising, which can best be described as patchy. Rocher’s

’ambassador’s party’, for example, has become a cult classic of bad

taste. Despite this - or, more likely, because of it - the old version

had a total makeover last year. The ’new’ ad still stars a crowd of

cocktail party guests oohing and aahing over a pile of Ferrero Rochers,

but with some fresh touches, such as a more international cast and a

smarter butler.



Other spots appear so anachronistic as to be kitsch. One recent Tic Tacs

commercial, for example, features a woman in a lab coat repeatedly

telling viewers a Tic Tac would give them fresh breath for two hours -

for just two calories.



At the moment, most Ferrero ads are created by the Italian-based

in-house agency, Publiregia. This shop, responsible for the

’ambassador’s party’ among other work, produces ads for the Italian

market that other countries can choose whether to run or not. In theory,

every market has the freedom to do exactly what it wants but, in

practice, only the biggest markets, such as France and Germany, have the

resources or, occasionally, the inclination to take up the option.



In the UK, Ferrero’s pounds 10 million budget is split between Lansdown

Conquest and BMB Advertising, but these agencies have not made an ad for

their client for at least three years: instead, they generate ideas and

rewrite scripts.



Advertising concepts pass down in a fairly straight line from the

Italian HQ.



Any change in direction from Ferrero would only take place if both

traditionalists and reformers can find a compromise, since the

organisational ethic is still firmly that agreement with country markets

is imperative.



Ferrero’s spokesman promises that Giovanni’s central marketing unit

intends to ’co-ordinate the transfer of experience and best practice

from country to country’ but ’respects the independence of every

colleague in every country’.



As a result, consumers are unlikely to see changes to Ferrero’s

advertising anytime soon, which means that the ’ambassador’s party’ mark

II will live on to fight another Christmas.



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