It was only a year or so ago that the concept of affordable luxury meant a Coach bag, Tiffany bauble or Starbucks latte. Since then, the recession has defined splurging downward to the price level of a can of soda, pack of gum or candy bar.
Expensive snack: Pedestrians passing by a Barnes Noble bookstore, which also has a Starbucks Coffee cafe, in New York. A cup of Starbucks latte is no longer an affordable luxury, thanks to the financial crisis in the US. Robert Caplin / Bloomberg
That is why many marketers of those prosaic products are still spending like it’s 2007 when it comes to advertising. For instance, both Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola recently came out with new campaigns, as did several gum brands, among them Ice Breakers.
Another case in point is the confectionery behemoth Mars Inc., which is introducing a major campaign for its best-selling candy brand, Snickers, that is centred on a make-believe language called Snacklish.
“Our competitive set is moving ahead, so we can’t afford to pull back,” said Carole Walker, vice-president for integrated marketing communications at the Mars Snackfood US division of Mars in Hackettstown, New Jersey.
The Snickers campaign, by the New York office of TBWA/Chiat/Day, is being rolled out in stages. The initial phase, which gets under way this week, includes outdoor ads and content on the Snickers web site (snickers.com) as well as Facebook.
Television commercials are scheduled to begin appearing next week. And there will be more content on snickers.com in the spring, including a way to translate regular language into the Snickers lingo.
Snacklish is a humorous way of speaking that revises everyday words and phrases for a Snickers-centric world. To underscore their origin, they are printed in the typeface and colours of the Snickers brand logo.
For instance, the basketball great Patrick Ewing becomes Patrick Chewing. Combine the rapper Master P with the peanut, a main ingredient of Snickers, and he turns into Master P-nut—perhaps a hip-hop relation of the Planters brand mascot, Peanut.
Other examples include a Snickers taxi, or snaxi; peanutarium, for planetarium; and chompensation, for compensation. And the Sigma Nu fraternity is transformed into Sigma Nougat, after another Snickers ingredient.
The possibilities are endless. You could someday, perhaps, read a Snacklish version of this article that quotes Caramel Walker, written by Chewart Elliott for The Nougat York Times.
In past recessions—and even during the Great Depression—brand-name products thrived if consumers deemed the out-of-pocket costs to be affordable. Snickers is emblematic of that, having been brought out by Mars in 1930.
The genesis of the Snacklish idea can be traced to elements of a campaign, also by TBWA/Chiat/Day New York, that appeared from 2006 through early 2007. There were outdoor signs in large metropolitan markets that offered made-up words such as “peanutopolis” and “nougatocity,” in the typeface and colours of the Snickers logo.
In research among consumers, “those billboards kept coming back” in positive comments, said Mark Figliulo, chairman and chief creative officer at TBWA/Chiat/Day New York, part of the TBWA Worldwide division of Omnicom Group.
That led the agency to see “if we could make it more than an outdoor campaign”, he added, “by taking it from a word play to a language”.
The tone and attitude of the campaign are purposely upbeat despite the grim economy, Figliulo said, to reflect the nature of the candy category.
The philosophy is “respect your category”, he explained, and in this instance consumers “want a smile and some light-heartedness, so you want to not take it too seriously”.
Still, there is an ad that touches on the times, urging consumers to “get a degree in snackonomics”.
There could be more such ads, Figliulo said, because the campaign is intended to demonstrate “how Snickers is part of your life”.
The campaign is also purposely infused with a slapstick, yuk-yuk approach, as evidenced in some of the initial commercials. In one spot, Ewing slam-dunks a basketball player along with a basketball. In another spot, a knight named Sir Snacksalot is incinerated by a dragon he is fighting. That tack is meant to appeal to the target consumer for Snickers, defined by Walker as men ages 18-49 with “a bull's-eye of 18-34”.
Executives at Mars and TBWA/Chiat/Day New York say the Snickers language will resonate with “young adults who are texting each other”, Walker said, “making up their own words, their own shorthand”.
It can be tricky for mainstream brands to figure just how jocular an approach to take when addressing younger men. Twice in the last two years, Snickers encountered problems with commercials aimed at those consumers, one in the US and the other in the UK. Both times, Mars had to withdraw spots because they were condemned as violent and homophobic.
“We hope it’s in the past,” Walker said of those incidents, and as a result “we’re looking very carefully at everything that walks out the doors” in terms of legal and other forms of scrutiny.
Walker declined to discuss the budget for the campaign. In 2007, the last full year for which information is available, spending in major media for Snickers ads totalled $46.1 million (about Rs283 crore), according to the TNS Media Intelligence unit of WPP, compared with $41 million in 2006.
For the first nine months of 2008, such ad spending totalled $26.3 million, TNS reported, compared with $36 million in the same period the previous year.
And according to Nielsen Co., sales in the US for all chocolate candy in food, drug and mass-merchandise stores totalled $6.6 billion for the 52 weeks ending 24 January, up 2.6% from the 52 weeks that ended on 26 January 2008.
That growth rate, however, slowed from the previous period. For the 52 weeks that ended on 26 January 2008, sales totalled $6.4 billion, up 5.5% from the 52 weeks that ended on 27 January, 2007.
©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES