The Mars bar is part of our cultural heritage. Our parents and grandparents were brought up with Mars, and instantly recognise the product by its wrapper and distinctive taste. Most of them can instantly recall the famous strapline 'A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play'. Mars has been the number one selling single chocolate bar since records began. Today, Mars bars are sold in over 100 countries worldwide, and over 95of the UK population has eaten one recently.
However, even cultural icons have to change over the course of time. This does not mean abandoning their strengths, but rather adapting to a changing environment.
The business environment faces several forces or pressures for change including:
- changed legal requirements (e.g. new environmental laws that reduce unnecessary packaging)
- actions of competitors (e.g. a rival markets a new product)
- shifts in consumer demand (e.g. consumers seeking more sophisticated products).
Intelligent companies therefore use market research as a guide to ensuring that consumers' needs are met by relevant products and services. To achieve a positive impact, any changes to the marketing mix (e.g. product, price, advertising message) should be communicated to various publics. In this case study we show how Mars skilfully used public relations to gain the positive support of new and existing customers when it re-launched the Mars bar in March 2002.
PR is the planned and sustained effort an organisation makes to establish, develop and build relationships with its many publics. It involves providing clear, consistent and positive communications with people outside the organisation, including:
- the community
- the government
- other special interest groups e.g. nutritionists, health associations, the British Dental Association.
PR is designed to build on, and improve the public perception of an organisation, product or service. It can be deployed to support both longer-term brand building or short-term sales promotions. Public relations activities include:
- working with various media to disseminate news
- sponsoring sporting and cultural events
- managing (and resolving) issues that potentially can affect negatively the reputation of the brand or organisation.
Changing the Mars bar
The UK confectionery market is worth over £3.5billion a year with over 50accounted for by chocolate products. In recent years, sales growth in chocolate confectionery has slowed and competition for market share has increased. Within the last thirty years, the Mars taste has been extended into other developed categories, including ice-cream and seasonal products (e.g. easter eggs, advent calendars).
Mars created its strapline 'Work, Rest and Play' in 1959; it became one of the most famous slogans of all time. In early 2002, almost seventy years after its introduction, the Mars bar was still the UK's best selling chocolate bar with 7.2of market sales. However, in the all-important chocolate confectionery market, Mars bar sales began to decline faster than the market segment as a whole.
Accordingly, to re-establish its position, the Mars bar needed to have elements of its marketing mix revised.
Masterfoods, the company that owns Mars bar, decided on the revised marketing mix that would be revealed in March 2002, and announced a £7.5m re-launch. This involved new advertising and packaging, together with renewed in-store and consumer promotions. Approximately £250, 000 was spent on PR related activities.
In designing the re-launch, it was vital to retain many of the successful elements of the Mars bar's 70 year brand heritage, so as to not alienate its loyal consumer base who are typically the most resistant to any changes, real or perceived, to a familiar friend.
In considering what changes might be required, a significant amount of both qualitative and quantitative research was carried out to:
- evaluate the evolving role of a Mars bar in peoples' daily lives
- establish how revising elements of the marketing mix could affect consumption.
Critical to decision-making was an understanding of the role played by social change.
One of the most significant changes in society has been the growing importance of women as income earners. Today about half of the labour force is female and large numbers of women lead busy working lives that influence the snacking habits of the population as a whole.
Traditionally, the Mars bar was promoted as an energy-giving male snack when in reality 40of all Mars bars eaten were by women. Given that, increasingly, a typical Mars bar eater was aged at least 25, it was finding itself less relevant to a younger age group who in the past had enjoyed one more than anyone else. This problem had to be addressed.
The major elements of the re-launch picked up by the media were:
- Recipe change
Fundamentally, the Mars bar's composition remains unchanged. There was a slight change, however, in the production process which resulted in the nougat being whipped more to increase the feeling of lightness.
The wrapper design was modified to deliver a more classy yet friendly brand image as well as improved eye-catching visibility in-store.
- Advertising message
The new strapline for the Mars bar is 'Pleasure you can't measure' which reflects the indescribable great taste and immeasurable everyday enjoyment that consumers gets from the Mars bar. New advertisements for the Mars bar are targeted at younger people, and now focus more on emotional satisfaction related to the consumer belief that 'a Mars bar just makes me feel good about life right now'. The result is that the Mars bar has already largely shed its former image as a hefty, hunger-busting mouthful and has become more of an every day treat.
Why Public Relations
Market research showed that younger people who do eat Mars bars are the product's most frequent consumers. The chart below shows the importance of the younger market in terms of sales volumes. It was vital to communicate to them about the new bar. It was also necessary to attract more female consumers in order to build further the Mars bar's popularity in the 16-24 age group.
To achieve their communications objectives, Masterfoods decided to use extensive PR in addition to the usual amount of traditional media i.e TV, outdoor posters, press/magazine advertisements. This approach produced greater public understanding of the rationale of the re-launch and, ultimately, consumer acceptance of the re-launched Mars bar. The new advertisements and other elements of the re-launch campaign did not break until mid April 2002, so the re-launch was lead by PR, which began four weeks before the first TV advertisement was aired.
In making major changes to a product, it is essential to communicate clearly:
- what changes are taking place
- why these changes are taking place
- how the public, in particular consumers, will be better off.
The objectives of the public relations campaign prior to the re-launch were essentially two-fold:
1.Communicate the re-launch of an icon superbrand and ensure understanding of the rationale for the changes (product, packaging and advertising strapline), which should help lead consumers ultimately to accept the re-launched Mars bar.
2.Gain trade support (among retailers) to ensure a smooth transition of over thirty different packs in-store all over the UK as well as support promotional activities and effective through-the-line communication at the point of sale.
Co-ordinating the re-launch
A comprehensive media relations strategy was implemented to deliver relevant messages to the trade, marketing and consumer press.
It was critical to communicate positive and accurate messages about the re-launch over a short time span. In designing the appropriate mix of messages, the PR programme also considered the various audiences receiving the news of the re-launch.
The Grocer magazine was identified as the leading trade title for the multiple sector and was therefore given an exclusive interview in March. Other trade publications were briefed later.
It was essential to reach the marketing press, in order to communicate the specific changes to the brand positioning and advertising target as well to ensure pick-up of the story in national and regional newspapers. An exclusive interview was therefore given to a leading magazine, Marketing, in March. This was followed up with press releases and interviews with other magazines.
An exclusive interview was organised with a leading journalist in the Media section of the Guardian. Press releases and interviews with national radio were also released in March.
The exercise can be judged a success if the Mars bar's market share and reputation is increased and enhanced. In addition, the market needs to become broader with more women and young people as purchasers. The loyal fan base would also need to be retained and built on.
So what happened?
Coverage of the re-launch appeared in all major newspapers and almost 100 regional paper and radio stations including key coverage on Sara Cox's Radio 1 Breakfast Show. TV interviews also involved the main channels. Further human interest stories were picked up in the national press including a granny who received 101 Mars bars for her 101st birthday, and an antiques dealer who is buying up pre re-launch stock as collectors' items. The value of these communications was estimated at £2.5 million; equivalent to airing over 100 ads on TV.
Independent research evidence indicates that the public relations activities created over 100 million opportunities for the public to see, hear or read about the 'New' Mars bar.
Audited sales figures show that Mars bar sales increased 20 in the 6 weeks after the re-launch. Mars was able to take its biggest share of the national chocolate bar market for six years.
Re-launching a superbrand like Mars bar is expensive, involving changing production processes, and technologies, packaging methods and communication. This requires detailed planning throughout. However, all of this proves to be money well spent when the net effect is to re-position the product appropriately as 'Pleasure you can't measure - an every day treat for everyone'.
The substantial media coverage in trade, marketing and consumer titles over an extended period of time reached a huge audience who quickly 'got the message'. For every £ spent on public relations, Mars benefited from over £10 worth of equivalent advertising coverage. That has to be seen as a success.
Mars¨ is a registered trademark of Mars UK Limited.
Masterfoods | Getting the right message across - the re-launch of Mars