TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards: Fairfax Media Supreme + BrandWorld FMCG, Griffin’s Choco-ade

It started as a Facebook page with a simple request: bring back Choco-ade biscuits, which were famous in the ‘80s and deleted in the ‘90s. Griffin’s listened and it created a monster.

The relaunch of Choco-ade was the physical manifestation of a big shift in Griffin’s marketing strategy from “set and forget” to “always on”. And this strategy came about because in 2010, the proudly Kiwi company was under siege. A move to new production facilities had resulted in inconsistent biscuit quality, and with the media having a field day with stories of burnt Gingernuts and broken Girl Guide biscuits, New Zealand consumers were starting to lose faith in the brand and sales were declining.

Added to that, its Australian competitor Arnott’s, which was launching more new products at sharper prices and had a media budget five times that of Griffin’s, was playing hardball. In contrast, Griffin’s media investment and innovation had been constrained over the prior three years due to supply and quality issues during the commissioning of the new production facility.

The biscuit market in New Zealand is a mature one, with 98 percent household penetration and the second highest per capita biscuit consumption in the world. But consumption was declining, consumers had been trained to buy on price and there was greater choice available. As such, Griffin’s strategy is to drive value, rather than volume, so it was time for a different approach that leveraged its New Zealand brands, fostered innovation and relied on best practice marketing.

Amongst all the pressure from consumers and the media, Griffin’s monitoring of social media via the Radian6 tool showed two key themes: 1) New Zealanders had an incredibly strong attachment to Griffin’s biscuits and they cared enough about the brand to speak up about the issues. And 2) consumers were looking, asking, and begging for the return of old favourites.

It also discovered that social discovery had become a key influencer among its primary market of female household shoppers. They were telling friends about what products to try, buy, stay away from and where to get them. And there were over 660,000 females aged 25-54 active on Facebook each week, meaning the platform was able to offer scale to achieve its business results.

Instead of using traditional market research methods to garner insights, Griffin’s instead used its own social media channels, an approach it believes is emerging best practice and much more effective. These insights then drove the creation of the core brand idea: to recognise the power and influence of consumers. 

Rather than simply telling stories through traditional media as it had in the past, it engaged, listened and collaborated with its customers and tried to give them a sense of ownership. Creatively, this idea was expressed by its agency Assignment Group as ‘Dear Griffin’s’—and it was inspired by the letters, phone calls and emails it regularly received from New Zealand biscuit lovers.

In 2011 (with the quality issues resolved), it launched a TV campaign featuring New Zealanders posing questions to Griffin’s. For example, “Dear Griffin’s — how many Chocolate Chips do you use in your Chocolate Chippies each year?” The query was always responded to either in the form of a new biscuit or a particular fact that Griffin’s wanted to communicate. Television also played a vital role in kick starting the conversation between biscuit lovers and Griffin’s on Facebook. And in year two of the campaign it knew it needed to be more than a marketing construct. It needed to deliver on what New Zealanders were asking for.

Through the Griffin’s Facebook page New Zealanders revealed hundreds of suggestions for new products, gave tributes to their most-loved biscuits and asked for the return of older favourites. When Griffin’s discovered a Facebook page set up by Upper Hutt woman Amber Johnson entitled ‘Get Griffin’s to Bring Back Choco-ade’ it saw some potential. So it watched from afar to see what sort of interest it generated. At the same time it commenced a feasibility project to see if it could bake the biscuit again to the same taste, texture and design standards, which wasn’t an easy task given it had to be done in a new facility, with new technology, at higher speeds, and with minimal capital.

The page grew steadily, the biscuits passed the test and, knowing it was crucial to have Johnson’s support, Griffin’s contacted her to see if she would help with the ‘Great Kiwi Comeback’.

To confirm there was demand for the biscuit, it ran a poll on its Facebook page asking fans to vote on bringing back Choco-ade. Within seven days, 15,000 votes were clocked up, enough to give it confidence that the idea was worth pursuing. And, as it was imperative that Johnson’s supporters and Griffin’s fans knew it was their actions that inspired the return of Choco-ade, it gave them ownership.

Griffin’s also recruited a group it called VIBs, or Very Important Biscuit eaters, who were selected not only for their love for Griffin’s brands and the ‘80s classic, but also for their social media influence. The VIBs were on hand to try samples, comment on packaging and became a part of the team. They then posted updates, letting the wider community know what was going on, so they became social advocates for Choco-ade and helped build anticipation.

​The Facebook post announcing the return reached 80,000 people in the first three hours and one million people within four days. It set a New Zealand Facebook record for engagement with over 23,700 likes (the campaign’s success has prompted Facebook to use it as a global best practice case study). And the media went mad for it. The Dominion Post had Johnson and her husband on the front page, Campbell Live ran a couple of long stories on the return of the biscuit and it was a topic of conversation on several radio shows and the comedy panel show 7 Days. 

Through the power of nostalgia—and community engagement—the relaunch turned Choco-ade into the nation’s most talked about biscuit and, all up, the PR earned more than $1 million worth of media coverage on launch day alone. As part of the PR strategy, the first official packets were auctioned on TradeMe, with all proceeds going to Plunket, Johnson’s chosen charity. Free packs were then sent to celebrities, again chosen for their social media influence, and a programme called the ‘Great Griffin’s Morning Tea workplace shout’ was launched where Griffin’s Facebook fans could nominate their workplace to win Choco-ades for morning tea. 

All this primed the pumps for massive sales, all before any of the traditional media had aired. In its first week on shelves Choco-ade became the country’s number one selling biscuit, with over 300,000 packets sold, almost twice that of the number two. Griffin’s retail customers said they had never seen demand like it and it was so popular it achieved $1 million of retail sales faster than any other product in New Zealand grocery history, knocking the Avatar DVD off its perch. Not surprisingly, volume and profit targets were well and truly smashed. 

Three weeks after the launch, a ‘Dear Griffin’s’ TVC featuring Johnson was launched to tell the story of her personal mission to bring back the biscuit. After three months, Choco-ade was still the number one selling biscuit ($2.7m RSV), exceeding ToffeePops at $1.4m, and it had gained 11 percent value share of chocolate biscuits (vs. a target of 2.1 percent).

After ten months it was still ranked in the top five selling biscuits. But in a world where promotions rule, it was a tribute to the power of the campaign that the biscuits were selling at full price, resulting in 140 percent price premium to the total sweet biscuits category. And, added to that, 24 percent of total sales were incremental to the category.

By engaging with consumers directly, Griffin’s gained richer insights and developed a new product that Kiwis not only wanted, but were prepared to pay a premium for. Social media allowed it to have more conversations, about more of its products, with more of its consumers, every single day, and at scale. 

But Griffin’s showed it’s not just about listening, it’s about doing. And given the success of the Choco-ade relaunch, you can bet your biscuits it will continue this very fruitful dialogue with the country.  

Awards: Fairfax Media Supreme + BrandWorld FMCG
Winner: Griffin’s
Judge’s comment: “This entry was a really good example of really listening to the market, understanding exactly what makes them tick, then translating that into a creative promise that really hummed. And it left the brand in an outstandingly good position as a result.”
Partners: Assignment Group, MBM Media, Assignment Group, Tell, Red Cactus, DUO PR, Amber Johnson​. 
Finalists (in FMCG): Fonterra Brands ‘Feel Tip Top’; Frucor Beverages x 3 (‘H2GO rebrand’, ‘Mountain Dew Beyond the Wall’ and ‘V Motion Project’); Lion ‘Lindauer Relaunch’.

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