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.

A new brand for word geeks – it’s

It’s very seldom I come across a new tool on the Web that jumps straight to the top of my bookmark lists, discount but it happened this morning. I got a tip from Charles Hodgson’s latest post on on a funky new site called that had my fast-twitch bookmarking reflexes firing almost instantly. wordnik

How does it DIFFER?

What’s so impressive, drug and how is it better than – or at least different from – any of the excellent reference tools out there? for example has become an indispensible reference for new slang and jargon. Don’t know what a “beauty booger” is? You’re in luck!

But in particular, how does wordnik compare to the granddaddy of them all: I have to admit that as a long-time word nerd (Scrabble, reading the OED for fun, the whole works) and professional brand namer, I’m a big fan of It has evolved over the past few years from providing a single set of standard dictionary definitions to providing a huge laundry list of definitions from a cross section different dictionaries, including specialized financial and medical searches, as well as etymology, suggested related searches, and cross references to encyclopedia and thesauri.

Oh and advertising. Loads and loads of advertising. Just scroll down through this definition of the word “brand” to see how exhaustive and exhausting this approach can become. So what could be missing? Well, the simplicity and focus of the early days for one. But more importantly, with this “stream of noise” approach, what gets lost is context – a sense of how the word works in the real world.

That’s where Wordnik comes in.

Screenshot of the wordnik results I got for the word "brand"
Screenshot of the wordnik results I got for the word "brand"

Check out this search on the word “brand” and compare it to the approach. The first thing you’ll notice is the clean layout, with everything in clearly marked containers. You’ll also see that the first item is not the definition, but examples of the word in the context of an actual sentence. And quite often from unconventional sources like Twitter.

Wordnik claims to have a growing database of more than 130 million examples to go with its 1.7 million words. This actually gets closer to one intent of the first, and still one of the easiest to read dictionaries, Samuel Johnson’s 1755 A Dictionary of the English Language which promises: “a faithful record of the language people used”.

Check out the Wordnik approach to the phrase “beauty booger” – which doesn’t have a formal definition, and which sends into a fishtail. But which Wordnik allows you to piece together from Twitter usage.

Or try Wordnik for the word fishtail. You’ll see that they also search Flickr tags, and a quick scan shows me that the term “fishtail” can refer to a kind of braided ponytail, something motorcycle-related, and the name of a peak in Nepal – none of which appear at

Where Wordnik needs work.

Okay, it ain’t perfect. That’s why they’ve stamped “Beta” all over it – or as they put it in their welcome e-mail “Because we are still in beta, there are almost certainly hiccups and other infelicities.”  In particular, the dictionary definitions themselve quite often fall flat in capturing the whole range of senses for a word.

For example, when you search “branding” the only definition that comes up is “the act of stigmatizing” – which totally misses the sense of the term that I’ve built my business on. On the plus side, there is a bit of Wiki-ness to the Wordnik site, so even if I wasn’t able to add a definition myself, I was able to submit the following comment:

What’s missing here is the modern business sense of branding, which I define as “the process of organizing a company’s products, messages, and corporate identity to help consumers understand who they are and what they do.”

Will this help? Hard to say. It will depend on whether a real human on the other side sees it and does soemthing about it (which is going to be a lot harder when more than 23 people have looked up the word). I’d love to see an open wiki environment moderated by fellow wordgeeks, but that requires a critical mass of users to filter out the type of self-serving editing that I’d love to do on the “branding” entry.

A quick word on the name and logo

Very quick actually: great. Nicely understated on both. It will be interesting to see if the noun-weighted name ever becomes a verb like “Google” – as in ” Wait a moment while I Wordnik that”. Or to use the Twitter / Tweet model: “let me Wordneek that.” Or perhaps I overstretch my point (for the first time ever).

So to sum up: Wordnik is cool for word nerds, and very useful for us in our branding work. With some more tuning and opening the door to deeper user contributions, it could become a killer app for everyone else too.