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
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
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
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
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
Advertising concepts pass down in a fairly straight line from the
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
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.