It's a daunting enough task for any ad agency. But it's doubly difficult for one that created the commercials that put the brand up there in the first place. And even more so when that brand is Unilever's biggest take-home ice cream, with $233 million in worldwide sales.
Viennetta had established itself across Europe in the 11 years since its launch as an upscale ice cream dessert, thanks to commercials from McCann-Erickson in London that took the brand to an increasingly formal positioning.
Yet in 1993, Unilever told the agency to knock that image down in one fell swoop-but retain all of the product's "specialness."
The client decision was no mere whim. Sales, which reached $233 million in 1990, had melted during the following two years by 15% in certain markets, dragging average volumes across the Continent down by around 10%.
`NEED A BREAKTHROUGH'
And by 1993, "We realized that this was a core brand and that we needed a breakthrough," said Eric Deprins, international brand manager for ice cream complete desserts.
The problem was twofold: Consumers who bought into the advertising-and the product-rarely found an occasion formal enough to use it; yet shoppers also knew that Viennetta was too cheap (at about $2.69) to be a suitable dinner party dessert.
"We put a lot of pressure on the agency," admitted Mr. Deprins. "It was difficult to escape from the prison of the communication we had before." McCann's London office was "struggling," so McCann-Erickson Italiana in Milan was brought into the creative mix. In the end, Unilever chose a more product-based approach.
The result was a lighthearted execution that played on the parallel of wanting to bite into Viennetta (with its contrasting hard chocolate and soft ice cream textures) and being unable to resist taking a nip at a loved one.
Fine Young Cannibals' instrumental version of Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" was chosen as the "lively, bright, sophisticated and unusual" music for a commercial showing shots of the product interspersed with vignettes of people playfully biting each other. "When you see something you really love, don't you just want to bite it?" a voice-over asked.
"It was emotionally driven," said Michael Albini, account supervisor at McCann in Milan. The spot helped retain the brand's "specialness" and "irresistibility," he added.
"We wanted to bring Viennetta down from its pedestal," Mr. Deprins said. "We didn't want to make it banal. But we wanted it to be informal and stylish-so it could make an everyday moment more special."
All possible cross-border advertising boundaries were examined and avoided-or so the agency thought. A sound track with no singing and no obvious link to any particular country was deliberately chosen; a universal-looking cast was used to avoid showing a particular nationality; and many shots were filmed to incorporate the difference in package size, language and design. (In Spain, the brand is known as Contessa.)
"The danger in cross-border advertising," Mr. Deprins said, "is that you find a common denominator which is below what you want to achieve."
TOO MUCH BITE
In the end, a cultural difference in sensibilities forced one commercial off the air: U.K. consumers complained about a woman biting her baby girl's bottom, and TV stations asked that it not be shown. Happily, the vignette style made slotting in an alternate commercial relatively painless.
The move from "occasion-dri-Viennetta
VIENNETTA from Page A-6
ven" advertising certainly managed to improve the mood of the client. Together with new packaging and logo, but no new product development or increase in ad spending, the campaign succeeded in its first year converting a loss of 10% in sales to a gain of 20% in most countries where it ran, Mr. Albini said. In all cases, it at least halted the sales decline, he added.
"The ads regained penetration we had lost and brought in youn-ger customers. Viennetta was perceived as a more everyday item," Mr. Deprins said. "These results were in line with our objectives."
Mr. Albini admits it was just a bridging campaign, which is why it was superseded fairly rapidly by, "Great moments come in waves."
"`Soft enough to bite' created a new role for Viennetta," Mr. Deprins said. "Now we are aiming to show a new occasion to eat it."