Hula Hoops - emphasising the core values of the brand


United Biscuits (UB) is an international foods business operating in 24 countries. The company manufactures, markets and distributes biscuits, savoury snacks and frozen and chilled foods, has leading market positions in the UK, Continental Europe and Australia, and is building its presence in Asia. UB has 46 manufacturing sites worldwide and its products are available in over 90 countries.

UB's brands include household names in all its product categories, and the company is also a major producer of own-label products in the UK. In the UK, UB owns McVitie's, KP and UB Frozen and Chilled Foods, manufacturing well-known products such as Digestive, Rich Tea, Jaffa Cakes, Penguin, Hula Hoops, Skips, McCoy's, Roysters, KP Nuts, San Marco pizzas, McVitie's desserts, the Ross Chip Shop range and Linda McCartney's meat-free products.

McVitie's is the UK's leading biscuit baker, manufacturing over 60 biscuit brands and a range of traditional and continental cakes. KP is UB's savoury snacks business, consisting of four business units (Snacks, Crisps, Nuts, Derwent Valley Foods), with Hula Hoops UB's biggest brand and the UK's leading savoury snack. UB Frozen & Chilled Foods consists of three businesses, all of which hold leading positions in their respective markets. UB has a flexible approach to brand development, building on strong acquired brands and existing portfolio brands as well as developing new brands capable of being used across national boundaries. The Hula Hoops success story is a prime example of UB's commitment to focus on investment in existing portfolio brands.

Organisations have to think carefully before introducing any form of brand strategy. A brand comprises a number of features which identify the products of a particular organisation, for example, a name, sign, term, symbol or creative element. It is important to understand how consumers feel about brands as well as other competitive features of markets.

Consumers identify with products in a variety of different ways. In fact branding is a form of product differentiation which communicates quickly and effectively a lot of information about a product range. In marketing a product, it is particularly important that consumers understand what a brand is and what it stands for. When consumers purchase products they are buying specific benefits.

Branding provides consumers with an assurance that they are purchasing a product they like and can rely upon, this helps to develop long-standing decisions by consumers to repeat purchase products. If it is not clear what a brand represents, then consumers may be confused by the product benefits and buy a competitor's product. This case study highlights ways in which KP Foods UK, part of the United Biscuits Group, identified the benefits that consumers seek in their fun snack Hula Hoops by emphasising the core values of the brand.

Thirty years ago the snack and crisp market in the UK had a very simple structure. Initially there were crisps with the famous small blue packet of salt so that they could be salted 'to taste'. Then there were ready salted crisps. Soon there were new flavours such as 'salt and vinegar' and 'cheese and onion'. The early manufacturers were able to spot a gap in the market and take advantage of the limited nature of competition.

The illustration below shows the segments of this market including such areas as Fun Snacks, Crisps, Nuts and Time Out snacks.

As food technology became more sophisticated, businesses such as KP and Walkers were able to produce a broad array of products appealing to a diversity of consumer choices.

In many ways the market has become saturated because there are so many products from which to choose. Individual brands therefore needed to consolidate and improve their existing positions in order to be long-term 'winners.' In a changing business environment with increasing competition from other brands, it is important for an organisation to continually revise its brand strategies.

For buyers, branding reduces the random nature of product selection. It helps them to identify more easily products that may satisfy their needs, and enables them to reduce time evaluating alternatives.

Hula Hoops is the number one savoury snack and the second biggest brand in the total crisps and snacks market place behind Walkers crisps. Hula Hoops are made using a mixture including potato flake and potato granules and are then formed into their unique and famous round shape. They have won a national quality food award for being the best savoury snack.

And, of course, like the Polo mint and the Round tea bag a key feature of the Hula Hoop is shape, and hence the feel in the mouth. As Harry Enfield says in the TV advertising: "Oi will not change the shape of Hula Hoops.'

'H ula Hoops are round, they're staying round, and they'll be a-round forever!"

Hula Hoops first arrived on the scene in 1973 and like many successful products went through an introductory period to one of sustained growth. However, its market share peaked at 18% in 1987 and subsequently slipped in the early 1990s. The reason for this was that its rating as a favourite brand among its key consumers - children and teenagers - had fallen. This loss of 'primary demand' in the repertoire was a fundamental weakening of the brand's position. With an increasing number of well differentiated brands competing with each other in today's marketplace, manufacturers cannot rest on their laurels and rely upon existing brand loyalty.

An organisation must constantly examine the values represented by

each brand and the extent to which these values help to determine a brand's potential for success.

The focusing of a brand upon a range of customer needs and requirements relative to other products is a function of product positioning. Positioning involves identifying key values considered to be important for consumers and then using these to highlight and develop the product's image.

KP took a long hard look at 'Hula Hoops the Brand' and produced the following positioning statement:


'It's the Hula Hoops shape that makes them so good to eat'.


'Everything good about Hula Hoops stems from their unique shape'.

Advertising is the most powerful way of raising the visibility of a product. For example, it helps to explain the success of new products like Tango in recent years and the strengthening of existing products such as Pot Noodles and, of course, soap powders and detergents.

Some of the most memorable television advertising in 1996 involved Hula Hoops. Prior to this period Hula Hoops had never had a clear, long term proposition, advertising property or campaign. As with most snack brands its advertising had tended towards trendy images and a play on the name. As a result, consumers had never been exposed in a sustained way to the core values of the product.

In preparing to advertise there was certainly no shortage of data on who buys, who eats, where, when and why.

However, this identified a difficulty for advertising in the shape of the brand's breadth. Hula Hoops are consumed by different people for different reasons. In developing the advertising strategy therefore, there was nervousness of being too selective for fear of weakening other parts of the market share. On the other hand, the advertising was desperate for the classic 'single thought' to inspire an idea. It was therefore decided to embark on a planning process of four stages:

  • Selection of creative target market
  • Finding the core benefit
  • Inspiring the core idea
  • Inspiring the executions
  • Selection of creative target market

Although Hula Hoops has a broader age profile than other child oriented snacks, the advertisers' agency and Client's recognised that a tight focus was essential if a strong idea was to be found.

The agency felt that the best area on which to focus would be the 13-15 year olds. This group was old enough to be 'aspirational' for younger children without straying into the exclusive world of teenage advertising. By focusing on this group it made it possible to appeal to the child in everyone.

  • Finding the core benefit

Research was carried out to identify the core benefit of the product for consumers. The resulting evidence indicated that the majority of Hula Hoops benefits derive simply from its shape. The product is not just potato - it's air as well! The ring shape is the secret of its finger play, its crunch, its feeling of substantiality, even the way it breaks down in the mouth into a satisfying potatoey eat.

This core benefit was therefore expressed as 'everything stems from the shape'. To drive this message through into advertising it was necessary to link the shape to specific benefits.

  • Inspiring the core creative idea

Much energetic work went into creating exciting ideas. Of course, lateral thinking approaches were used. One of these involved making some flat Hula Hoops using water and a microwave oven. The results were inevitably some of the least appetising and dullest food items ever created!

However, they proved to be the catalysts for - the idea! .......

If Hula Hoops are not round they lose everything - their identity as well as their product appeal. This area appeared to be exciting - one that was opened up by an unconventional approach to creative development.

Instead of carrying out concept testing, groups of 13-15 year old boys and girls were invited in friendship pairs to become part of the creative briefing. Creative teams were encouraged to help 'moderate' the discussion and explore what the Hula Hoops shape meant to them. Several expressions of shape were discussed and it was clear the best was: 'You can' change the shape of Hula Hoops'

This target group of consumers actively objected to a change of shape, and when it was highlighted, reminded consumers what they personally enjoy most about the brand. This also meant that communication would work most effectively if the specific benefits remained implicit.

To sum up the idea, the creative team coined a succinct and positive line:

'Hula Hoops, they'll be a-round forever.'

*This is now the most widely recognised endline in crisp and snack advertising.

  • Developing the executions

The creative team quickly identified the potential fit between this core idea and comedy duo the Self Righteous Brothers - Frank and George Doberman. Who better to say 'Oi...No, you can't change the shape of Hula Hoops!'

The teenage 'consultants' whom the advertising agency used provided insights into the type of humour they liked and why. The Dobermans (as opposed simply to the comedians who play them) really tap the mood of this age group, who are at a stage between conformity and rebellion. The brothers almost uniquely combine both elements. Their humour is 'edgy' enough to appeal to younger teenagers but sufficiently close to the tradition of British comic situations to have broad appeal.

Three executions were created - Edmonds, Minogue and Venables. The slight digs at these popular 'institutions' add both breadth and stature to the idea. The advertising agency rightly believed that 'Oi....No!' had lots of potential for mimicry and would quickly become part of popular folk culture. The expression also began to appear in the tabloids, on TV and on radio. The 'Oi...No' was then used on a series of 6 sheet posters supporting and extending the TV presence.

The advertising campaign proved to be an outstanding success. The net result of the advertising and other promotional activities was to raise the overall market's understanding of the brand, its core values, and its principal benefits.

It is essential for business organisations to develop clearly focused strategies which clarify on what it is they are focusing (e.g. Hula Hoops), how they see their focus developing (e.g. to sustain the growth and market

leadership of Hula Hoops), and of course how they will sustain this position

(e.g. by emphasising core values).

It is periodically necessary to inject new life into an existing brand to consolidate its position in the product life cycle and that is exactly what KP has done recently to Hula Hoops.

This case study has focused on the way in which the leading brand in the snack market has set out to consolidate its position. In order to do this it has

been necessary to establish clear targets and objectives.

Central to this strategy has been a detailed analysis of the core values of the product and the way in which they are able to provide the benefits that consumers require.