BRAND HEALTH CHECK: Ovaltine - Can sleepy old Ovaltine reawaken our interest? Ovaltine is back on TV for the first time since the mid-80s But is its new energy identity the right strategy to revitalise a tired brand? Tania Mason reports.

The last time Ovaltine was advertised on TV, Rick Astley was top of the charts and Margaret Thatcher still had an iron grip on the country.

The last time Ovaltine was advertised on TV, Rick Astley was top of the charts and Margaret Thatcher still had an iron grip on the country.

Much has changed since 1986, but the brand identity of Novartis-owned hot malt drink Ovaltine is still associated with fluffy slippers and late-night telly.

It is not as if Novartis has skimped on advertising. In the past eight years it has allocated more money to its hot drinks brands than either of its competitors, Premier Brands' Cadbury's High Light or SmithKline Beecham's Horlicks.

But most of Novartis' budget went into brand extensions: low-fat Ovaltine Light, the hot chocolate Options, and kids' milk drinks range Ovaltine Power. The core product was left to fend for itself.

Ovaltine's main rival, Horlicks, has run TV campaigns every year since 1995. Much of this work sought to pitch Horlicks as a bedtime beverage that would help drinkers to sleep soundly and awaken refreshed. Ovaltine, without doing anything to create a separate identity, has continued to be classed in this category.

But this is about to change. In June, Novartis marketing director Alistair Paton decided to drop Abbott Mead Vickers BDDO from the pounds 3m account and appoint Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, which last week unveiled a quirky new TV campaign. The four ten-second executions aim to change consumer perception of Ovaltine from a bedtime drink to a nutritious, energising refreshment.

We asked Ben Langdon, chairman and chief executive of McCann-Erickson, the creative agency that holds the Nescafe hot drinks portfolio, and Greg Delaney, founding partner at Delaney Lund Knox Warren, who works on Cadbury's chocolate drinks, how they would stir up the Ovaltine brand.


                       1995       1996       1997       1998        1999

Ovaltine                610          0       2913          0         297

Ovaltine Light      941,201    913,705          0       3768           0

Ovaltine Options  1,062,184    698,207  1,620,682    849,185     974,505

Ovaltine Power          N/A        N/A  1,209,120  2,510,614   1,762,740

Horlicks          1,025,343    106,330    684,047  1,553,027     453,427

Cadbury''s         1,601,886  2,005,125  1,665,244    433,226   1,686,443

High Lights

Source: ACNielsen MMS


Ben Langdon

Ovaltine is a cosy drink for bedtime, cold evenings or feeling ill - a tried and trusted comfort blanket. I was therefore surprised to see the demographics for this brand are relatively flat and dominated by light users.

Therein must be an opportunity. However, I'm not sure (seeing the new ads and ready-to-drink format) that the brand's competencies are best leveraged. I can see the attraction of moving from 'old' energy to 'new' energy (particularly given Lucozade's success), but I'm not sure if a hot-drink brand can transcend the energy market characteristics (cold, impulse, funky).

The opportunity for Ovaltine that I find more interesting is a single-minded celebration of relaxation. Not old relaxation, but relaxation for today. This would enable Ovaltine to increase usage by becoming associated with an increasingly common need in a more fragmented marketplace where authentic brands can thrive.

Greg Delaney

Ovaltine is one of those murky brands that appears to be perennially attached to another era. The name conjures up Glenn Miller, food coupons and the drone of Luftwaffe bombers overhead.

It is a past Ovaltine has made some not particularly valiant attempts to break clear of, notably with the launch of Ovaltine Power - a milkshake for kids with added vitamins and minerals. But as so often happens, trying to get the sub-brand to do all the work is difficult, especially when the mother brand lacks clarity and differentiation.

What Ovaltine needs to do is demand a role in modern lives. To inform people of what it is, because many young people have simply never encountered the brand. And, crucially, it needs to be presented as a drink that can confer benefits that cannot be found anywhere else. Wrap that up in stylish contemporary imagery and it has got a real chance of reaching a new audience.


Langdon's 'leverage'

- Re-assert credentials in relaxation not energy.

- Review packaging and formats to make it more single-minded.

- Continue to target people attitudinally.

- Drop Ovaltine Power.

- Explore all the communications channels available. A relaxation brand must bring the message to its audience, not expect its audience to find them.

Delaney's 'differentiate'

- Tell me about malt. Most people don't know what it is or even what it tastes like.

- Tell me why I need it. Why it does things a fizzy drink cannot.

- Make it sexy. A lot of people don't want to go straight to sleep after their bedtime drink. Maybe call it 'The bedtime drink'.

- Do a morning version with added caffeine. And make damn sure you can get it in Starbucks.

Become a member of Campaign

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an alert now

Partner content