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McVitie’s: Investment in brand is crucial for remaining in ‘hearts and minds’ of consumers

Confectionary brand McVitie’s is over 180 years old, and remains the market leader for biscuits in the UK. Its range of products, such as Chocolate Digestives, Jaffa Cakes and Rich Teas, dominate the list of bestselling biscuits.

However, the brand is not being complacent. Recognising the need to innovate in the face of competition, it is launching a new master brand campaign to stay top-of-mind with consumers.

“We already have a strong place in consumers’ hearts and minds in the UK, but you cannot afford as a brand not to continue to invest in that over time,” McVitie’s marketing director James King tells Marketing Week.

Back in April McVitie’s launched its ‘True Originals’ brand platform, aimed at solidifying that place in consumers’ minds. And it’s already starting to shift the dial.

The ‘It’s Time for a Biscuit Break, Britain’ campaign led to a 4.5% increase in penetration for McVitie’s and bolstered market share by 0.2 percentage points. It also doubled sales growth for the brand from 11% to 22%.

King refers to McVitie’s as the UK’s “definitive biscuit brand”, which is already in more than 75% of consumers’ homes. While the brand has a very high level of awareness among British consumers, keeping it top of mind is incredibly important, he says.

“We want [consumers] to be talking about the brand,” King says. “We want them to be thinking about the brand more than they do today.”

According to YouGov’s BrandIndex, McVitie’s overall brand health has declined in comparison to a few years ago. Its index score, which is a measure of overall brand health using measures such as consideration, quality and value perceptions, peaked at 34.7 in March 2021. As of 16 September 2023, its index score had declined to 28.1.

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McVitie’s index score does remain significantly above rivals such as Maryland (15.7) and Fox’s (22.5). Despite that, the brand is not resting on its laurels.

The recent master brand campaign represents a £7.8m investment by McVitie’s. It released the first iteration of the campaign in April. It starred Love Actually star Martine McCutcheon and was the brand’s bid to re-establish the biscuit break. The ad was a bid to have the public “reconnect” with the biscuit break, says King, and assert McVitie’s as the obvious choice for this break.

Now the brand is returning to TV with its latest installment of the True Originals platform: ‘There Is Only One’

King says the brand has a great story to tell and that TV as well as video in general, is the perfect medium to tell this through.

“Often imitated but never equalled”

The latest campaign focuses on McVitie’s status as an “iconic” brand and so stars a  fellow British “icon”, the broadcast legend Sir Trevor McDonald.

“The campaign playfully points to other cultural icons that are often imitated but never equalled,” says King. The brand wants to “put the fun back into the category” through this tongue-in-cheek tone of the ad, he argues.

He claims that the ad, which was developed with agency TBWA\London, achieved the brand’s best-ever brand equity score, in pre-testing. In McVitie’s experience “reigniting brand love” has reliably led to a boost in sales. It therefore hopes to see this again from the new campaign.

King acknowledges that McVitie’s faces “very strong rivals” in the biscuit category, as well as jostling for position from private label competitors. This campaign seeks to re-assert McVitie’s dominant position at the front of consumers’ minds in the fact of that competition.

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However, as the market leader, King says McVitie’s has a responsibility to grow the category more generally: “Every category needs a strong market leader,” he says. “It’s about growing the category, getting people engaged with the category again.”

The sweet biscuit category has grown in retail size from £1.91bn in 2017 to £1.73bn in 2022, according to figures from Mintel. The market research company also found that three-quarters of UK consumers class biscuits as “affordable treats”.

We’re in the midst of a crisis in brand building

The category as a whole is well-positioned for growth as consumers continue to look for “affordable treats” amid the cost of living crisis. Therefore, the campaign is “perfectly timed” to “build on the momentum” that already exists, King says.

Given the broad appeal of the category, the new campaign is not targeted at one particular audience, with McVitie’s looking to reach the “widest” possible audience.

McVitie’s has a wide range of products, from Digestives to Penguin to Club Orange, each with its own position within the market. To that end, King argues it is consistently innovating under these brands in their own right.

He gives the example of the launch of white chocolate digestives. He says the innovation, which represents a twist on a product that has been in existence since 1839, is recruiting younger consumers.

He cites it as evidence that even in a mature category like biscuits, it is possible to recruit through innovation. The company’s research found that around seven in 10 consumers who have purchased white chocolate digestives had not otherwise bought digestives at all in the past year.

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Given the extent of the brand’s portfolio, it was important that the campaign developed could be “enduring” and has the potential to be adapted and iterated upon to encompass a whole variety of products.

“For a brand of our size with lots of sub-brands, with lots of activities going on, it’s important that we create a platform which can help join the dots,” King says.

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