Tyrrells' Oliver Rudgard has a few things in common with the posh Hereford brand

Oliver Rudgard, marketing director of Tyrrells, is relishing making the most of the brand's irreverent nature.

Oliver Rudgard's CV reads like a dream for those who like to indulge. Cigarettes, ice cream, chocolate and now crisps, as marketing director of Tyrrells, make up his 18-year career in FMCG marketing.

On first impressions, Rudgard and Tyrrells are a good fit: both are a bit upmarket, hail from Herefordshire and find pleasure in their eccentric take on life.

'One of my favourite times was when working at Unilever on Magnum in Italy. I was stopped at customs at Dover,' he recalls, with a broad grin. 'The customs guy, seeing my Italian plates, said "Do you speak English?", to which, obviously, I said yes, and then tried to explain that I was an Englishman, making ice cream, in Italy. They released me ... after an hour.'

A quick glance at Rudgard's Twitter feed reveals more of the same mischievous spirit. In a Tweet sent to rival Walkers on a celebratory day for Tyrrells earlier this year, he wrote: 'Just heard Tyrrells has won another award. Have you tried one?'

The answer would no doubt have been 'yes'. Tyrrells, founded in 2002, was one of the pioneers of the now-mainstream premium crisps market - a category Walkers has also moved into, first with Sensations, then Red Sky.

Tyrrells' USP has been to stick two fingers up at the mass-market producers, and to wear its provenance - the crisps are made using potatoes from local farms in Herefordshire - on its sleeve. Its marketing approach has been to win over consumers with its live-life-to-the-full philosophy.

It has done this despite its price tag - a 40g bag of Tyrrells has an RRP of 69p, making it significantly more expensive than Walkers. 'We operate right at the top of the market but we are happy to be the most expensive,' says Rudgard.

The premium pricing is not putting off cash-strapped shoppers, it appears. Sales in 2009/2010 were £18m, but they are forecast to top £40m by the end of the current year.

Despite making a name for itself, Tyrrells is still a relative minnow compared with Walkers and the brand that first created the market for posh crisps in the US, Kettle Chips. Walkers' sales of £607m loom large over other brands, with Kettle Chips coming in at £84.1m (SymphonyIRI Group). Tyrrells, on the other hand, was ranked 19 among UK bagged snacks in 2010, according to Nielsen.

Rudgard hopes to change that, with help from brand extensions, including vegetable crisps, quirky flavoured popcorn and nibbles such as Thai Chilli Rice Crackers.

The brand has certainly come a long way. In 2006, in a true 'David and Goliath' battle that shows Tyrrells' spirit, it fought not to be sold in Tesco. The retailer was sourcing Tyrrells' products in the grey market and selling them cut-price, but company founder Will Chase made Tesco back down and remove the crisps. Five years on, such is the growth of Tyrrells that in September, it rolled out in 450 Tesco stores, importantly at the intended premium price.

Rudgard's career has come full-circle, with the marketer having grown up just a stone's throw from the Leominster farm where Tyrrells products are made. In his first week, he even bumped into an old school friend in the local pub. Having arrived at Tyrrells after stints at Cadbury, Unilever and Gallaher, Rudgard feels settled in this latest job. 'I was thinking about my next logical move after Cadbury and then I started talking to Tyrrells. It was a chance to have loads of impact,' he adds.

His career began with university placements at ad agencies Leo Burnett and JWT, but he still cites core advertising 'as the most interesting' part of his work.

After that Rudgard was hooked, landing his first fully fledged marketing job at Gallaher Tobacco in 1993, lured by a 'broad training scheme' rather than the freebies.

'I started off working in a dark warehouse and also as a field salesman. But I realised legislation was becoming stricter and didn't want to pigeonhole myself, so I decided to join Unilever,' he says.

Rudgard spent eight years at Unilever - including that stint in Italy. His family moved abroad with him, and he fondly remembers his children playing football with Italian kids. 'My daughter was seven and had the most amazing accent. She would always correct my Italian,' he adds.

During his tenure at Unilever, Rudgard worked on the high-profile 'Seven Deadly Sins' Magnum campaign, which he recalls as a career high-point. 'When I joined, the brand was a bit tired and moribund. The great thing about the campaign was that not just the customers but the whole business got behind it,' he says.

It all fed into a formative experience. 'I really learned where my passion lies: I enjoy managing and nurturing a brand. I felt like I was a parent and Magnum was my kid.'

Returning to the UK with a move to Cadbury fitted with that desire. However, the Kraft takeover led to a reorganisation of marketing, and the role Rudgard was offered in Switzerland was not for him.

While Tyrrells is not on the same scale as other brands he has worked on, Rudgard fizzes with enthusiasm for its low-key marketing approach and the work of his small team of just four marketers. To date, the company has shunned TV ads, opting instead for word-of-mouth, PR and a deep focus on the product - flavours and packaging. Seasonal flavours help boost the brand, with the latest winter Sour Cream & Roasted Garlic line hitting shops now.

'We have money for TV, but our marketing is all about advocacy so packaging and social media become important,' says Rudgard. One of Tyrrells' packaging gimmicks is the 'Alternative Five-a-day', which is made up of 'A ploughman's lunch', 'A tale from the good old days', 'A hearty guffaw', 'A homemade cottage pie' and a 'Bowlful of furrows'.

Rudgard claims the 'eccentric' take on life attributed to the brand is a big hit overseas, 'from Malaysia to Paris'.

He delicately avoids answering questions about his next job, though he concedes that he could be tempted by a role as chief executive. 'I enjoy working at a mid-sized business and would relish running something of this size,' he says.

Rudgard may be comfortable at home in Herefordshire, but he's not sitting back and relaxing. Tyrrells is never going to compete with PepsiCo's core Walkers brand, but the premium lines are well within its reach.

'I have huge respect for Kettle and PepsiCo, but we're really not massively focused on looking over our shoulder at competitors,' adds Rudgard.

While it may not have the adspend of Walkers, there is little doubt that, having taken on Tesco and won, Tyrrells' fighting spirit counts for more than the size of its marketing budget.

Inside work

1993-2002: Marketing, sales operations and central strategy roles, Gallaher

2002-2008: Senior brand manager, Magnum, and global brand development, ice-cream category, Unilever

2008-2010: Giving and seasonal category director, Cadbury

2010-present: Marketing director, Tyrrells Crisps

Outside work

Car: BMW

Favourite film: Where Eagles Dare