Cute: McVitie's new marketing strategy
Cute: McVitie's new marketing strategy
A view from Rob Sellers

Winning the fight against own-brand - or, how kittens can make killer commercial sense

Rob Sellers, director at Dialogue London, explains why United Biscuits has unleashed a wave of cuteness to boost its McVitie's brand in the face of stiff competition from supermarket own-label rivals.

Imagine a scenario in which your biggest customers are also your biggest competitors. Sounds like a Joseph Heller-esque nightmare, doesn’t it?

This is the reality facing the vast majority of FMCG brand owners today. For them, their ability to reach as many shoppers as possible is inextricably linked to their ability to get distribution through Britain’s huge grocers; Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons. The "big 4" take three in every four pounds spent in the grocery market, but without their support the mass market is almost impossible to reach.

Not only this, whilst selling into and negotiating with retail behemoths, FMCG brand owners are also aware that the keenest competition in their category may well come from the own-label products of the very same retailers. Sainsbury’s, with arguably the strongest market performance of the last 12 months, has suggested own-label growth is fuelling their success.

Next time you walk down an aisle, pay attention to how own-label products have packaging that shamelessly mimics the visual equity of iconic brands.

And as if the mere existence of own-label rivals weren’t enough, retailers are also using all the psychological gambits to win away shoppers specifically looking for your brand in store.

The next time you walk down an aisle, pay attention to how own-label products have packaging that shamelessly mimics the visual equity of iconic brands. All the investment and creativity that goes into building your brand is undermined at the last moment, when shoppers make that final purchase decision. Brand X – or something that looks just like brand X but is significantly cheaper? At a rational level, it’s a tough argument to beat.

So what can marketers do? Does this mean doom and gloom – an ever decreasing circle of profit and distribution that ultimately negates the purpose of brands? Absolutely not.

Avalanche of cuteness

This week, an avalanche of cuteness is coming to a supermarket near you and for very good reason. The McVitie’s relaunch campaign is anything but fluffy. Borne from serious insight, it shows how big brands can take the fight to own brand and stand apart in competitive trading environments.  

A brand is a seal of quality. It’s the clear articulation of what makes your product wholly distinct from comparative rivals. If the essence of that brand is credible, then articulating it as clearly as possible at the moment of purchase will help shoppers understand why your product is worth the marginal difference in price. They will know what they are investing in.

In many categories, this is a clear articulation of superiority or value. Fairy lasts twice as long. Andrex is softer. Gillette shaves closer. Vanish removes stains more effectively. These types of brands find creative, disruptive and relevant ways of delivering claims that keep shoppers loyal, or attract new ones.

But what about categories where the purchase decision is very far from being rational?

Coca-Cola can’t claim to be X% better than Pepsi, can it? How does a brand where quality claims are much less clear, convince shoppers to choose or stay with them?

There are ways of framing superiority, such as talking about heritage or being the "nation’s favourite" – a strategy Walkers utilised in a through-the-line campaign last year. But ultimately, a great brand should have a real emotional bond with its target audience, and leveraging this can be more powerful than any other communication device. 

Lurpak have done a great job associating the brand with the kitchen. Even if you’re not planning on cooking from scratch, Lurpak resonates with anyone who appreciates the warmth, fun and satisfaction that comes from real food. By heroing the iconic silver packaging and always using the colour of associated ingredients, they make it easy for shoppers to find their brand and remember why they should buy it.

Which leads us back to the relaunch of McVitie’s, a campaign close to our hearts at Dialogue. What is the benefit of a biscuit? The client and agency team have identified the power of the biscuit "moment" - an intangible sense of reward and comfort, playing on big emotional cues of nostalgia and family.  Grey London’s adverts launched this week, and Dialogue’s job is to help the brand have the same impact in the aisle as it will on screen.

So watch out for cuteness everywhere, and an unerring urge to put McVitie’s in your basket.