Brand Sauce: Mr Kipling, the Doctor will see you now

 In Insights
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Misdiagnosis: Treating the symptom not the cause

A few days ago a Linkedin post caught my attention. Yet again I was looking at another rebrand of Mr Kipling. And I was surprised to see it.

Being from the world FMCG brand design, I’d been following the changing faces of Mr Kipling over the past decade. Having rebranded in 2008, 2012, 2014, 2015 and now 2018, it’s remodeled its self image a unique number of times for a large household name. For me it hints at a wider struggle that they’re trying to overcome; finding relevancy and brand purpose in the world of today.

After a series of explorations in style and messaging, various iterations of the cake tin lock up; the patisserie vernacular of 2015 in which they positioned themselves as a premium boutique offering (but unfortunately not following through with the product), this years design goes back to the brand centric cake tin lockup of 2012, backed by an extensive advertising campaign attempting to keep Mr Kipling relevant in modern everyday life.

The 2012 rebrand only lasted 2 years before it was changed proving that it didn’t quite get the results it needed. Why go back to something that didn’t work 6 years ago and why should it work now? Premier Foods is persistently changing its heritage brand over and over while still expecting different results.

Regardless of these efforts, Mr Kipling has been suffering over the past decade and desperately trying to keep hold of it’s diminishing market share, shelf space and relevancy. Going through a redesign, while at times necessary to reinvigorate and bring back brand relevance, can undermined the integrity built up over time – confusing its purpose and breeding distrust further. We all know that guy from work who keeps trying to reinvent himself – you just don’t know where you stand with him.

But are these campaigns at fault or were they doomed to begin with? It would seem there’s a case of misdiagnosis – pack design and consumer engagement wasn’t the problem to begin with. Then what is and why isn’t it being addressed?

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Mr Kipling

Diagnosis: Market irrelevancy

As consumers, we’re healthier than ever. We’re shunning and shaming sugar and keeping a check on those calories. But we’re also fussier than ever too; offered a seemingly unlimited variation of foods we can quite frankly afford to be.

Which means when we snack, we do one of two things;
1: eat a healthy low fat, low sugar, low calorie snack. Or 2: we go the whole hog and pick the richest satisfying thing we can find; but just not eat it so often. See diagram below

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Kiss Branding

In response, food brands are adopting a go big or go home attitude; adapt and cater for these two attitudes either creating new healthier alternatives or ramping up taste to 11.

This leaves the middle guys with products that fall between the gaps, products that aren’t healthy nor really tasty, in trouble – Mr Kipling being one of these.

Mass produced cakes aren’t worth the sugar and calories and just don’t make the cut. Parents are seeing that putting a cake bar in your kids lunch box everyday probably isn’t a good thing and when we want cake – we’ll have it alongside a flat white in the trendy coffee shop down the road.

Beaten when already down; the supermarkets are offering same and often better quality products for a fraction of the price – why buy 6 slices of angel cake when you can buy a whole fresh finest carrot cake for the same price?

Looks like his exceedingly good cakes aren’t hitting the sweet spot with consumers.

But you might think this is all pretty obvious right? Kipling knows this. A pack design change pack won’t fix that issue. So what will and why isn’t the brand address it?

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Caught between a rock and a hard place

Up until the 2008 crash, middle tier brands like Mr Kipling had it good. But that’s when everything changed. On top of an eroding market base, Mr Kipling has been facing pressures from all fronts.

Consumers are looking for value AND quality, supermarket own labels are catering for just that; cheaper, more appealing versions of the same product. Often produced by the very same brand, undercutting and tightening margins still. Consumers are also catching on to that and won’t part with their cash for the same product at a higher price. Supermarkets through this system are aggressively putting on the pressure.

Along with own label pressures smaller starts ups are on their heels and breaking into the market offering precision products that do one thing extremely well, think Maggie’s Quiches.

Internally, it’s incredibly hard to attract the right talent, marketing managers etc when you’re a middle tier brand – the best people will be looking for brands massively on the up – who wants to work for a failing and irrelevant brand?

Altogether with deteriorating brand loyalty across all areas. Consumers are turning away from old favourites and turning to brands that hold the most relevance in their lives. For example, Everyman Cinema turned it’s market on its head, instead of sitting idly to let Netflix kill the Cinema industry, they used the opportunity to turn ‘going to the Cinema’ into a coveted occasion and evening out that people look forward to again.

Rising global ingredient and production prices, tighter margins it’s generally not looking good. But importantly, Mr Kipling has lost where it’s value lies and consumers know that too. The root cause of the problem is that Mr Kipling is providing a brand and a range of products that people don’t want anymore. It’s irrelevant for today.

To innovate or not to innovate

So why hasn’t the brand seen this coming? Well it probably has.

The mistake has been focusing on short term reactions rather than long term strategies. It’s been easier to make short term changes and cut costs than move into long and expensive innovation projects. Running these cost cutting exercises that over time undermine the brand, it’s integrity and it’s products.

It’s a problem for brands like Mr Kipling, who are not big or relevant enough to have the scale, reputation and leverage to invest, while too big and cumbersome to pivot and adapt to market forces. The middle guys fall between the cracks. It’s fair to say that Mr Kipling have done some Innovation, but mostly novelties, and tweaks to their existing line.

It’s not necessarily that they don’t want to change, it’s just that it’s so hard to do, with factories that run on huge economies of scale, they can’t afford to slow the production for innovation as it raises the costs too high. Innovation logistics can be a massive barrier. The success for cost can be extremely off-putting and sometimes it’s easier to bring out a whole new brand.

For Mr Kipling, the reality is, we’re presented with a man that never existed telling us that he makes exceedingly good cakes that are massed produced and aren’t very good.

And it’s not the only one with that problem. We’re facing an epidemic of household brand deaths and store closures. Toys’R’Us, Byron’s, Jamie’s Italian and many many more are struggling.

Kipling’s miracle cure?

The ultimate goal (and saving grace) for Mr Kipling is to become part of an everyday ritual again, something that they may have had in the past but lost with the newer generations. That’s when you’re onto something really special, but it’s not easy to achieve.

At Kiss, we think the answer is cutting back on the range and focussing on a few key ‘flagship’ products. Be THE BEST at one thing, just think Heinz Beanz. Double down on your values and find your true purpose again and, vitally, know where your value lies. Bring out a range of baking tins, aprons, give out recipes, encourage people to bake for themselves and educate people on how to enjoy nice things whilst enjoying a healthy lifestyle (yes, the two can co-exist!) Re-create a role for the brand in our everyday modern lives and find that relevancy.

The answer is often to put more money back into it. Be longevity focussed, instead of reacting to what’s going on now and plan for the future. Innovate into reduced sugar, low fat or even dairy free/free-from alternatives, catering for the changing market, may be the answer they’re looking for.

As a brand it may be that they’ll never be able to turn around – it needs to happen from the ground up which is nye impossible on massive international names. So heck, if all else fails, why not enjoy the last few years and think about what’s next? Work on a whole new brand or range of micro brands in the background that cater for a need that’s important today – use the collateral and capital from the old to build the new.

(Thanks to all the people in industry we spoke to for your insights!)

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