The FMCG market is, by its very nature, fast-paced and highly competitive to begin with. Now imagine that you are an ice cream manufacturer. Everybody has a soft spot for ice cream, which only makes the competition fiercer for retailers – and when it comes to China, the summer confectionery category can be an incredibly tough cookie to crack. Nobody has learned this lesson harder than the folks at Nestlé, who have struggled in the summer ice cream stakes for years, notoriously lagging behind Chinese brands Yili and Mengniu, not to mention Unilever-owned Walls.
Nestlé had to pull out all the stops to make the summer of 2012 worth their while. And in this case, the old notion that adversity breeds innovation was certainly true. The company conceived a brand new product; an ice cream stick with a fully peelable, edible yellow jelly skin, called the BenNaNa.
Despite Nestlé’s poor track record in the Chinese ice cream category, a host of competitors with gargantuan advertising budgets, and a disillusioned consumer base following a series of tainted food scandals, the marketing team had faith that, with a creative and cost-effective campaign, the BenNaNa could be full of Eastern promise.
Novelty was a key component in crafting a marketing strategy; the kitsch appeal of the BenNaNa enabled Nestlé to tap into the fad-driven, trend-seeking ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO) culture that permeates consumer behaviour in 18 to 31 year olds. The BenNaNa was, after all, the very first product of its kind – any hipster worth their salt would want in before it went mainstream. And go mainstream it did.
The team adopted a paid, owned and earned model to optimise spend, investing in a microsite and a Sina Weibo profile, paid banner advertising, and PR content. The central campaign itself consisted of two parts. A microsite, which was based around the concept of a magical island (complete with jungle, naturally) and invited users in with the playful strapline “discover the magic of the world’s first peelable ice cream”. And then there was the official corporate Sina Weibo account, which made monkey business the order of the day, posting fun, original content and hashtags.
Focusing on Sina Weibo proved to be an exceptionally shrewd move. Food is one of the most discussed topics on Chinese social media, and 70% of food-related updates in China are posted on the popular micro-blogging platform. By implementing a social-centric strategy that positioned BenNaNa as the must-have treat of the summer, marketers drummed up unprecedented buzz and BenNaNa became Nestlé’s bestselling ice cream product within three months.
And while the brand may not have quite reached the Goliath-like status of the local power brands, 2012’s summer of monkey business has Nestlé well on its way to being the ice cream market’s very own King Kong.