Friday, March 5, 2010

A love/hate relationship? No thanks.

A few months back, we had a number of breakfast-related projects going through the studio. In one brainstorm we were debating the merits of breakfast on-the-go, and the subject of cereal bars obviously came up. One individual felt particularly strongly about the predominance of sweet variants, and the lack of a convenient on-the-go option for those, like him, who preferred their breakfast savoury. "Where", he wondered, "is the cereal bar equivalent of Marmite on toast?"

Well, now we know. It's on the shelves, in the shape of the new Marmite cereal bar. Strategically, this makes perfect sense of course, with the on-the-go market booming, and none of the other savoury snack brands having come up with a cereal bar. Theoretically, Marmite can hang on to existing consumers who are suddenly too busy to make toast in the mornings, and attract some new users who don't eat Marmite the spread but are nevertheless in the market for a savoury bar.

They were giving them out free on Marylebone Station this week, supporting a clever ad campaign featuring lots of outlandish possible Marmite products with the strapline "Have we gone too far?" Obviously we all tried them - design is hungry work. Sadly for the Marmite brand team, though, who declared boldly "Consumers really will either love it or hate it." (Daily Mirror, 25/10/09), the overwhelming reaction amongst the team was one of complete indifference.

Therein lies the problem with the kind of provocative positioning adopted by the likes of Marmite, Yorkie and Pot Noodle. The idea is that those people who are already consumers get a buzz and a certain pride out of being amongst the chosen few, and everyone else is driven to try the product by a bit of reverse psychology - if you say this is not for me, then I am jolly well going to have it. But when the product does not live up to promise, it ends up looking a little hollow.

Marmite, the spread, really does divide consumers because it is unique, unmistakeable, a bit eccentric, and above all it is potent - a little goes a long way. The unfortunate truth about the cereal bars is that they do not look any different from any other product in the category, they are tough and dry and taste vaguely of Marmite. Hardly enough to inspire extremes of emotion.

Perhaps they really have gone too far.

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