This case study looks at how understanding your consumers and your consumers’ motivations better, helps you keep your brand in growth.

Pot Noodle has been a supermarket staple aimed at 16-24 year olds. The brand became iconic in the ’90s when Gen X (aka slacker/MTV generation) embraced the brand for its ease of use. According to Marketing Society, ‘These were the kids who were proud to sit around in their undies on the sofa watching Men Behaving Badly and playing on their PlayStations. The ease and convenience of Pot Noodle made it the perfect food for this infamous 90s lifestyle, and the brand became emblematic of slacker culture.’

The team had been using music themed ads for this target segment. In the noughties, the Pot Noodle team launched a new ad campaign, ‘Why try harder’, which according to Marketing Society, featured a man marrying a footballer in order to live the easy life and another pretending to be a towel so people would carry him to the beach every day. While the ad was in keeping with the generation they had previously targeted, the 16-24 year old of the millennial generation had different values from the previous one. So the brand started losing share to others in the same category. The irony was that the category was in growth and Pot Noodle was underperforming vs the remainder of the brands in the category.

What was causing this?

This generation, the Millennials, had grown up watching their peers become tech billionaires and global peace envoys. According to a 2014 survey, 79% said career success was important to them, 76% wanted to achieve more than their parents and 55% planned to start their own business. In complete contrast to the ‘slacker’ image portrayed by the Pot Noodle ads, this generation was probably the most ambitious one yet.

So why was the rest of the category in growth?

It wasn’t that the rest of the category was in decline as well. In fact the category grew by c. 2% (value) between 2013 and 2014, but Pot Noodle’s market share dropped by c. 5% (value) during the same period.

When the marketing team behind Pot Noodle at Unilever dug deeper into this, by spending time with people in this generation, they found that convenience was still a highly valued selling point for this category. They found that this generation valued convenience not because they were lazy, but because they were ambitious and driven. Spending less time putting together snacks & meals gave them more time to focus on their career.

This was a generation that was defined by the financial crisis in 2008. They knew that unless they focussed completely on their careers, they would not be able to enjoy the same quality of living as the previous generations did.

So they bought and consumed instant meals/snacks to make more time for work.

However, the ‘slacker’ image portrayed by Pot Noodle was not in line with the ethos of this new generation.

A different portrayal of the same benefit

While the fact remained that both generations valued convenience, the reason for why they valued this convenience had changed.

While Gen X valued the minimum effort that went into putting a snack/meal together, Millennials valued the time it saved them, that they could use to focus on their careers.

So the Unilever marketing team launched their ‘You can make it’ campaign.

Re-launch of the Pot Noodle brand in September 2015

They used the 3 months of December 2015, to completely re-launch the brand. Given they were now targeting a generation of digital natives, the campaign focussed heavily on digital channels. The campaign kicked off with the story of a young man who dreamed of success in the Boxing ring.

You can make it

They also ran mobile and online ads around this theme, ‘You can make it’. They went beyond just running ads however, they launched partnerships with online youth sites to back entrepreneurs. They launched music careers, funded & launched launched inventions through their on pack competition and handed out c. 100k samples at Universities.

Turnaround of the brand

The campaign resonated with this generation and completely turned around the brand performance in stores.

#youcanmakeit generated a whopping 29 million impressions during the campaign period, with the majority of the users aged 16-24 (Pot Noodle target age).

The ad changed the way Pot Noodle was perceived by people. Pot Noodle went from being a guilty pleasure to one that gave its consumers more time to focus on success.

Major media outlets and youth influencers praised the positive message about gender choices that the Boxer spot delivered and were supportive of the message behind the ad. During the campaign period positive reports of Pot Noodle in the press outweighed negative ones by a factor of 10 to 1.

This change in perception had a major impact on sales, market share and penetration.

By understanding their target consumer/shopper segment better through data, the team behind Pot Noodle was able to reverse and even grow the brand. Sales value increased by 3.6% and nearly 364k NEW households bought the brand. Pot Noodle not only reversed their decline but became the fastest growing brand in this category.

Published by Veena Giridhar Gopal

After more than 20 years working in the FMCG/retail sector, Veena is now co-founder & CEO of salesBeat. salesBeat has an AI driven platform that uses micro and macro factors to model consumer buying behaviour and makes predictive recommendations of optimal stock levels to FMCG sales people who sell into supermarkets, distributors & wholesalers, ensuring 100% availability of your brands in store and increasing revenues by up to 30%.

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