The Marketing Profile: Jon Goldstone of Hovis

LONDON - It's 12 months since Hovis marketing director Jon Goldstone swapped crisps for bread, and it has been quite a year for both the marketer and the iconic brand, which has undergone a dramatic marketing-led recovery.

Jon Goldstone, Hovis
Jon Goldstone, Hovis

When Goldstone arrived at Hovis' Windsor headquarters last March from Walkers Snacks, the bread brand was in poor shape. Grabbing a graph from his noticeboard, charting the UK bread market, he highlights key points that tell the sector's story over the past few years. One shows where Hovis was in 2006, almost neck-and-neck with arch-rival Warburtons; the next, for December 2007, shows Warburtons pulling away with a 34% share of the market to Hovis' 23%.

'Hovis was doing badly - it had pretty poor quality bread and poor marketing communications,' says Goldstone. 'We had got into a situation where Warburtons was synonymous with healthier bread from real bakeries and Kingsmill had cornered the value end of the market. We were being squeezed and were falling fast.'

Goldstone explains that Hovis had suffered because RHM, the brand's owner before its acquisition by Premier Foods in 2007, was looking to sell and had taken the cost out of the product. It had also taken money out of the marketing support. Warburtons, on the other hand, had worked hard on improving its distribution in the South with a factory-building prog-ramme to allow it to service supermarkets outside of its North of England heartland.

As the graph reaches its plot for February 2009, the gap is clearly narrowing - Hovis still trails Warburtons' share, but there is now just 7% between them.

As he speaks, Goldstone has a habit of embellishing what he is saying by drawing diagrams - he gets through several sheets of paper during our interview. So it is no surprise that on his first day in the job he drew a graph of the nation's bread-buying habits, incorporating where his brand was and where he wanted it to be - that is, perceived as being naturally healthy, tasty bread from real bakers. Over the past 12 months, Goldstone has gone some way to achieving his vision, most notably through an acclaimed TV ad campaign.

When MCBD started work on the campaign, he told the ad agency: 'We want to be something special, but we've become ordinary. Make us special again.' Following an amazing amount of hype, in September Hovis finally unveiled one of the most memorable spots of 2008; an epic filmic ad that time-travels though 122 years of history - the age of the brand - taking the journey of a boy out on a bread-buying errand as its central theme. In a touch that perhaps suffers from a hint of creative indulgence, the ad is 122 seconds long.

The lavish campaign didn't come cheap. Goldstone says he had a 'heart in mouth' moment presenting the ad and its seven-figure price tag to Premier Foods chief executive Robert Schofield and chief operating officer Tim Kelly - but, luckily for him, they loved it.

The ad represents the highs and lows of British history with no sugar-coating. The brand was, of course, famous for its 1973 'Boy on a bike' ad, but Goldstone says opting for the nostalgia line with a 2008 take on it would have been 'the worst thing we could have done'. 'I look at all that Heinz stuff [a reference to a recent ad using a montage of previous campaigns] and think it's a bit lazy,' he adds.

Less high-profile, but also key to the brand's revival, was a comprehensive packaging redesign across its entire range by branding agency JKR, says Goldstone. 'We went back to our bold trademark and "heroed" the quality of our bread. On shelf, you get a fantastic brand block differentiat-ing us from Warburtons and Kingsmill.'

Its relaunch was not purely cosmetic. The bread has been reformu-lated in the hope that consumers not only reappraise it but also make repeat purchases. Goldstone says that in blind taste-tests against its two main branded rivals, it has gone from coming third to first.

Martin Glenn, Birds Eye's European chief executive and former president of PepsiCo, lavishes praise on Goldstone, highlighting his work on the premium Walkers Sensations brand.

The Sensations launch ad, overseen by Goldstone, featured Victoria Beckham and Walkers brand ambassador Gary Lineker. Glenn cites it as one of the best in the 'No more Mr Nice Guy' series. 'He [Goldstone] sold a lot of crisps for more money and it's still huge, what's not to like? His nickname was "the vicar" as he had a "butter wouldn't melt" visage that meant he could get away with murder - and, to his credit, he did,' adds Glenn.

Despite this reputation, once he starts talking, 41-year-old Goldstone emerges as a fun, relaxed and, at times, outspoken character. He recounts how his Walkers days left him with the dubious honour of creating an ad for Doritos which featured the phrase 'multiple orgasm' - a British advertising first.

Goldstone seems relatively unconcerned with creating the 'right' impression. He believes he is good at what he does, but apologises if it sounds arrogant to say so; he chides himself for being pretentious when he talks about the Hovis ad 'capturing the zeitgeist' and, in a refreshingly off-message moment, reveals that he 'can't be arsed' making sandwiches at home to bring into work for lunch.

At one time, it seemed as if Goldstone would be a PepsiCo lifer and he concedes that he felt as if the company was 'the one'. But the departure of Glenn changed things for him. 'I had a sense that I'd stay there forever, but then Martin left and it did change the business for me. It became a less inspiring place to work, to be honest,' he says.

He started putting the feelers out for other roles and, when he met Schofield, felt that same enthusiasm and ambition as he had in his early PepsiCo days. At Premier Foods, Goldstone reports directly to Kelly, who sits on the management board; he has no regrets that he made the leap.

As he enters his second year at Hovis, Goldstone says the main challenge is to keep the momentum going. There is marketing support planned for its Best of Both brand, and, later in the year, for its rolls range. 'There's a question mark over what we will do in September. Maybe it's time for the next big blockbuster,' he muses.

Goldstone's ambition over the next 12 to 18 months is to wrest the market leadership from Warburtons. 'It's going to be tough. It is a very good brand with fantastic quality bread and very well run. It's tough to get people to switch from something that they like and trust.' Given 'the vicar's' track record, maybe the Warburton clan had better start saying their prayers.