Nutella: accidental brand or cult sensation?

A Twitter conversation last night instigated by Olivier Blanchard and carried on ad nauseum elsewhere, sales reminded me of a long-time guilty pleasure: Nutella. Just typing the word makes me salivate – and I have to restrain myself from running upstairs to slather some of that rich hazelnutty goodness on melba toast. And apparently I’m not alone: in additon to Twitter fetishists, Nutella has 3.5 million fans on Facebook.

French Vs German Nutella

So why all the nuts?

Dutch Hagelslag: The chocolate-on-bread option I grew up with.

I didn’t grow up with Nutella. As a Dutch-Canadian kid, if we wanted chocolate on bread, by golly, we just put chocolate on bread. “Hagelslag” (pronounce the g as if you are lightly hacking up a small furball) or “chocolate hail” or just “sprinkles” were always available at my Oma’s house. My first Nutella purchase came as a student, when my room-mate had to have it in the house, and I in turn have had my own jar on the shelf ever since. And now, although we don’t let the kids have it (far too precious), my pregnant wife is currently making sure we stay stocked up.

But I wasn’t conscious of where it comes from (Italy), or its fascinating history, which Wikipedia has done a much better job of than I could manage in a blog post. Basically, it comes from a war-time innovation by Pietro Ferrero to produce a cheaper alternative to chocolate using cocoa and the hazelnuts that were plentiful in that region. Nutella in its present form emerged in 1964, with 179,000 tons produced in Italy every year.

Building a fan base

But I can’t remember seing an ad for Nutella, and can’t recall a single in-store promotion or Point-of Purchase display. It was always just there on the shelf alongside the Peanut Butter, calling “Dennis! DEEEENNNNISS!”. <more saliva> But I digress.

Apparently Ferrero does do some advertising – particularly in Europe, as in this nicely toned French ad that promises that Nutella will give you the energy of a child. But according to this site, Ferrerro USA only spent $300,000 on advertising in 2008.

It’s interesting that the positioning is built around “energy” and “youthfulness” rather than being explicitly “healthy”. In Canada, Nutella labels feature a boy kicking a soccer ball to highlight their support for amateur soccer, while in Italy, the connection with futbol was made even clearer in one commemorative package (right).Soccer jar

But in the UK, the “energy” positioning has gotten Nutella into hot water as misleading for a product that contains so much sugar and fat (thanks to @kaitli for the tip!).

The secret to Nutella’s long term success seems to be consistency, living up to the promise by just being there, and by the affectionate devotion of its fans who carry a craving for that taste well into their adult lives. And not just consumption, but even geeky fixation.

Just do a quick YouTube search on Nutella, and you’ll find hundreds of fans geeking out on all aspects of the product. Check out this clip from a German television show that compares the consistency of French Nutella with German Nutella in agonizing (and entertaining) detail. But note that when they actually call Ferrero in this clip, the brand-er doesn’t do much to help the geeks in question with their free advertising.

So the question for you DIFFER brand geeks: what should Ferrero be doing to capitalize on all these nuts who obviously want to help them spread the love? Social Media campaigns? More traditional media advertising? Just staying out of the way? Looking for your comments as always.

5 thoughts on “Nutella: accidental brand or cult sensation?”

  1. You’ve never seen an ad for Nutella? Really? The only reason I know that it has 13% hazelnuts and a full cup of milk is from the Nutella commercials that ran throughout the 90s.

    Part of the reason why they haven’t had such mad branding in North America is that it was, until the last decade, an expensive import that was viewed as more of a speciality food.

    As for what they should do next? Tread carefully, and contuinue social marketing by supporting school breakfast programs.

    Sure, they aren’t offering traditional proof of purchase deals, but they are cross-marketing to other breakfast brands with coupons attached to their labels. In doing this, it’s encouraging parents to buy more and make for a more complete breakfast in ways they may not have considered (oh, I have to buy orange juice anyway and if I do, I may as well save 50 cents).

    Also, they’ve sponsor the Canadian Soccer Association for just over a decade, a sign that they know some of the cultural associations of their brand (c’mon now. European football anyone?) and the growing importance of the sport amongst kids in Canada.

  2. Great comments as always. As it turns out, I had just added a small section dealing with the Futbol connection – so check it out.

    As for advertising. I always get in trouble when I say things like “I’ve never seen an ad for… X” because, truth be told, I watch maybe an hour of TV a week. Isn’t that shameful for someone who tries to comment on consumer branding?

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