CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/NESCAFE - Nescafe turns its back on women on top

Gold Blend plans to bring romance back to drinking coffee. By Camilla Palmer.

"We knew we had to bring the romance back into Gold Blend ads when, five years after the final ad in the saga between Sharon Maughan and Tony Head aired, research groups were still talking about it," Georgia Field, Nestle's marketing manager for the brand, says.

Last week, consumers could relax in the knowledge that the romantic spark had been put back into the brand, with the arrival of a series of ads showing various couples in lovey-dovey situations. The campaign will run through the line, and its £11 million spend shows Nestle's commitment to one of its flagship brands.

The core target audience is women aged between 25 and 35. However, they didn't warm to the advertising implemented after the shoulder-pad-clad duo finally got down to it in 1997. They were replaced with another romance, which was shortlived, before McCann-Erickson introduced a campaign 18 months ago with a "girl power" theme.

Women were shown imagining themselves in various scenarios while sipping Gold Blend and subjugating men. In one ad, the lady lassoed the man she wanted from across a crowded room. However, a second execution, featuring an annoying man being chucked out of an aeroplane, was deemed inappropriate after 11 September, leading Nescafe's marketers to conclude it was time for a revamp.

The new campaign is an interesting about-face. Women on top - a theme slavishly adopted by numerous advertisers targeting women - are being replaced by women needing and loving their men. Field denies that re-introducing romance is a backwards step, and points to its potency with consumers. "The new ads tap into the zeitgeist of shows such as Sex & The City and Ally McBeal and the importance of relationships to women, so although the basic premise of revisiting the romance is there, the strategy has moved with the times too," she says.

She adds that research had shown that consumers had grown out of the single-couple "drama" of the previous ads. "Despite its cut-through and popularity, it was all too 80s, and we feel that focusing on a more modern type of relationship is better."

The first ad shows a couple reclining in what appears to be a tent in the middle of the African bush. He toasts her with a cup of coffee, prompts her to remember what day it is - their anniversary - and takes her back to the time they got together. The ad finishes by revealing that they have reproduced their African idyll in the sitting room of their suburban home.

Although sales of premium brand Gold Blend are increasing, the overall instant coffee sector is in decline. Marketing's Biggest Brands survey showed that Nescafe fell from the number three slot in 2001 to number four in 2002, with UK sales down 8.2 per cent in the year.

The Gold Blend revamp comes just a year after Nescafe attempted to reposition its core Original brand to a more youthful, unisex audience, ploughing £30 million into a new TV campaign and a number of tie-ins with suitable brands such as Burger King and Ministry of Sound. In a bid to engage with young people, the brand also developed links with the homelessness charity Shelter, which is popular among the target audience, and sponsored the teen soap-opera Hollyoaks in a deal worth £9 million.

Field explains that hot drinks in general were difficult to target at a younger audience, primarily because of the number of cold soft drinks available to them. The Nescafe Original ads, with a character driving around in an Afro-clad Cortina to match his hairdo, attempted to target the audience that laughs at Tango and Pot Noodle ads.

Nestle and its rivals have an important job to do to ensure their brands stay on top. Coffee bars have tempted away instant coffee drinkers, making them aware of instant's taste inferiority. But Field is not overly concerned: "It's a bit of an urban myth to say that coffee bars have really threatened the overall coffee market. It's a phenomenon that has a big share of mind but tiny share of throat." In fact, Nescafe is attempting to capitalise on the popularity of "real" coffee by launching a range of ground coffee.

The Fallon planner Laurence Green thinks the popularity of "real" coffee can help the wider coffee market. "The coffee-bar culture has actually done the brands lots of good, by pushing coffee in general to the front of consumers' minds. Now it has to tap in to the feel-good factor that accompanies high-street brands such as Starbucks," he says.

However, he is less sure about the return to a romance-led strategy for Gold Blend. "It's really a question of whether the strategy of the old campaign was right, or whether it was a fantastic execution, using brilliant casting and a great media plan," he warns.

"The brand advertising will need to reverse the decline in coffee sales, and this can only work after a fundamental re-engineering of its strategy."

Field is confident that this will happen, although she is aware of the legacy the new ads must live up to. "They must be better all round, both for consumers who remember the potency of Sharon and Tony, and to attract new and younger coffee drinkers."

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