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Brilliant, Cynical or Stupid?

Full disclosure up front; in my long career at Nestlé I was rarely involved in the confectionery business, unless you count launching Polo mints in the Côte d’Ivoire or an early encounter with the Milky Bar Kid. That said I know very well how Nestlé operates and how decisions are taken, for better or worse!

Last week Nestlé UK went public with a “relaunch” of Nestlé Rowntree’s oldest brand- Walnut Whip - as “Whip”…. without the walnut …. “for people who don’t like nuts” according to a spokesperson. Three new flavours with no nut on top. (To be fair they will be continuing with the “real” Walnut Whip as part of the range – presumably for people who do like nuts).

The “Twittersphere went into meltdown” according to the national newspapers, “what no nuts?”, “I have to ask for a whip in my newsagents” etc, and then headlines ensued, inevitably with a Brexit angle and some adolescently amusing “nuts” or “whip” angle: “Swiss chocolate giant steals our nuts!” So, a stupid brand management decision then?

Not so fast. Walnut Whip might be 107 years old, but it isn’t a KitKat or a Smarties so it might need to punch above its weight with its limited marketing spend. Create a PR storm, get on the front pages – why not? Had you heard of, or remembered, Walnut Whip before last week?

So it’s brilliant, right? Maybe. The PR stunt worked quite well, but it’s a one-off, a flash-in-the-pan; did it get enough coverage to break through to consumers and to drive the distribution needed to make a real difference? Did Nestlé capitalise upon the Twitter storm with amusing responses or come-backs, and manage to amplify the love the brand received on social media? Not that I could see. I got an overwhelming feeling that this was marketing circa 1990; create a story and put it out there and watch the sales grow. Today engagement is needed, thousands of people put their social media hands in the air and said “talk to me”.

I hope it does work, I really do, but I feel “Whip” will need more than new flavours, a “nudge-nudge, wink-wink*” brand name and a cynical short term PR release to revive a brand.

I’m from the school of marketing, (Lancaster University, since you ask), that looks for long term consumer value to build and create a brand equity that makes consumers keep coming back for more. Nestlé are generally excellent at this; “have a break, have a KitKat”; let’s hope Whip can whip up some long-term business for them.

I’d love your thoughts on this. Do you think it is brilliant, cynical or stupid?

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*nudge-nudge, wink-wink – from Monty Python’s Flying Circus in 1969

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