CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE - AFTER EIGHT. Nestle Rowntree needs to extend this fading brand's appeal. John Tylee reports

It might be the fading symbol of pseudo-sophistication, but the move to make After Eights as appealing to a Pringles eater as to Hyacinth Bucket will be tricky.

Yet that's what Nestle Rowntree wants to do with new advertising intended to boost the brand's popularity with those nearer to 20 than 60 by moving away from its long-standing associations with the suburban dinner party.

The new campaign aims to present the brand as an any-day, anytime indulgence rather than a purely post-prandial pleasure.

Out goes the spot in which Stephen Fry and Naomi Campbell appear to share a box of After Eights at a dinner with Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein.

In come blokes wrestling semi-naked, a woman applying sticking plasters to her partner's body hair and a family leaping aboard a bouncy castle in J. Walter Thompson's new campaign.

Like its great rival Ferrero Rocher, After Eight faces the dilemma of trying to preserve its premium status while building volume in the £5.5 billion UK confectionery market. As one agency chief with extensive experience of the sector puts it: "How can you promote something as special and exclusive when you see it gathering dust in your local petrol station?"

But many believe that unless the market for after-dinner chocolates can be extended, it has no significant future. "Like the sherry market, it's in danger of dying on its feet," an industry source says.

Another claims such brands have lost touch with reality. "They've nothing in common with ordinary life any more," he says. "The dining table is often to be found in the kitchen these days and nobody eats formally any more."

Nick Ashley, a managing partner at MindShare, which is handling media buying and planning for the After Eight campaign, says the change of tactic merely reflects more relaxed times. "The idea is to go for a slightly younger market without the brand losing its traditional appeal," he explains.

Whether or not it can succeed is an open question. A senior creative who has worked on premium confectionery business believes the core After Eight offering is terminally ill and that the best chance of preserving the brand is in its line extensions. "It will be a difficult transition to pull off," he warns.

Perhaps a measure of Nestle Rowntree's confidence in its strategy is how much more evenly it spreads After Eight's advertising throughout the year rather than concentrating on the run-up to Christmas.

"It's the big debate," Ashley admits. "We have to decide whether we just want to lift sales or initiate a change of behaviour."

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