The Choco-ade chronicles: how Griffin’s, Assignment Group and Amber Johnson created a monster

Nostalgia’s not what it used to be. But when it comes to biscuits, it’s obviously still a very powerful force, because the decision to get behind a campaign started by Upper Hutt-based biscuit crusader Amber Johnson to bring back Choco-ades has well and truly paid off for Griffin’s, with AZTEC scan data figures showing it set a new benchmark as the top selling product by value in supermarkets in its first week of sales, beating the Avatar DVD. 

Involving consumers in new product development is now fairly common and the ubiquity of communications tools makes it much easier than it used to be to engage with consumers. But Griffin’s has made listening a core part of its marketing strategy, launching the Dear Griffin’s digital idea just over a year ago and imploring consumers to offer their suggestions. 

This Choco-ade campaign fits into that strategy, but it is slightly different and entirely unplanned, because the Bring Back Choco-Ade page was started by someone who marketing and business development director Josette Prince calls “an average New Zealander who wanted a chocolate biscuit she loved in the ’80s”, not by the marketing department. 

Some called it a stunt, with John Drinnan writing that he believed it was astro-turf marketing, or the artificial generation of demand. But Prince says it developed organically, outside the bounds of Griffin’s. It simply watched from the sidelines to see how the movement developed and then, when it was clear there was enough demand to ensure a commercial pay-off for the company, it decided to relaunch it and sold out 300,000 packets in one week.

Prince says there was no market research involved to make sure it was making the right decision, but it did run a Facebook poll to see if it was more than just a few passionate Choco-ade-loving weirdos calling for its return or whether a larger chunk of New Zealand would buy them if they were back on the shelves. So it’s nice to see some intuition coming to fruition. 

Prince says Griffin’s generally favours TV to raise awareness, but because this product had such an interesting back-story, it decided to send out a press release. And it seems everyone loves a comeback because she was amazed at the level of media interest, with stories featuring on TVNZ Breakfast, Campbell Live, 17 newspapers and a whole heap of radio stations. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=We8nmFlX2CUAll that media coverage and social activity among its 85,000 Facebook fans (it broke the Facebook NZ record for most likes on a post, with 20,000 plus) created the awareness, so she says some inside Griffin’s wondered whether they needed to do a TV ad, but, even though Prince says Johnson is actually quite shy, she agreed to feature in an ad, which was created by Assignment Group and Underpants. 

“It’s her story,” she says. 

So is it a fad? And why has it captured so much attention? She says repeat purchase numbers have been impressive, which shows Choco-ades are still proving popular, and she believes nostalgia has been a key factor in its success. 

“I’m a child of the ’70s, so I remember them. They do have that nostalgia. And everyone has their own way of eating them; their own memories of nibbling around the edges, licking off the jam and then having the big chunk of chocolate leftover.” 

She says there was some concern it wouldn’t appeal to those too young to remember it, but the high level of media coverage obviously sparked some curiosity, she says. 

She does wonder how some companies are able to, for example, go out with a promotion asking for customers to come up with new flavours for chips and then get them to vote on the favourite. It takes a long time to develop new products, she says, so, while she wouldn’t name names, she seems slightly suspicious that some of these campaigns aren’t entirely consumer-generated. 

“If you really are going to ask your consumers, you need to make sure it’s true,” she says. 

At this stage, she says there are no plans for any more relaunches of old products. And, despite receiving hundreds of suggestions about new flavours of Toffee Pops, there are only so many they can make. But after the success of what can only be called the Arab Spring of biscuits, one thing is for sure: Griffin’s will keep listening to its customers. 

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