Wrigley ads take on bite

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For many years, Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. was run on the premise that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," a conservative mantra that had sales growing at a slow but steady clip. But in 1999, when the reins were handed over to company namesake Bill Wrigley Jr., after his more traditional father passed away, change became not just palatable, but a directive.

Now the company, which has long dominated the gum market, is taking a far more dynamic approach with an unconventional new product lineup and edgier advertising. "[Bill, Jr.] has been a breath of fresh air," said Prudential Securities analyst John McMillin.

SWEATY HANDS

Not all its new products have been hits: Gums such as Eclipse and Orbit have helped Wrigley fight against pesky strong-mint competitors, but wellness gum Surpass, an antacid gum, "is on its last legs," according to Mr. McMillin. Yet, the company remains committed to its course, going so far as to hire Surinder Kumar as its first "chief innovation officer."

Once-staid Wrigley is also breaking loose on the creative side. "The change in advertising has come about with a desire to speak in a more relevant way to consumers, to be more targeted than what had historically been a more general audience appeal," said Kathryn Olson, VP-U.S. consumer marketing, who came on board five months ago from Nordstrom.com.

Where the senior Wrigley approved creative himself and favored attribute-driven messages, his son is taking a more hands-off approach. "What often happened was the client thought the entertainment value got in the way of the message," said Gayle Pollack, senior VP-group creative director at Omnicom Group's BBDO, Chicago, Wrigley's longtime shop.

That's now changed dramatically. "One thing Gary [McCullough, Wrigley's senior VP-Americas] shared early on was he wanted us to challenge their thinking. Make their hands sweat," said Stacie Boney, exec VP- client service director.

Wrigley had been so cautious that a few years ago it took some convincing from BBDO to get the marketer to hire a set of African-American twins for Doublemint. "It was like a cold slap in that for a long, long time people would say `It must be tough working on Wrigley,"' said BBDO Chicago's Chief Creative Officer Phil Gant. "And then the client says, `It's a new day, kid. I want to see the best stuff you can do."'

Case in point: Big Red stick gum, which for years was supported with its "Kiss a Little Longer" campaign with smooching couples. As of March 2000, the brand's new ad image is velvet-tongued guru of cool named Clyde who advises prowling singles that fresh breath is their key to scoring.

Wrigley's power-mint Orbit uses a decidedly retro-mod feel, with a blond Brit demonstrating how the gum gives your mouth a "good clean feeling no matter what," including a muddy shower from a dog. TV spots for Eclipse star a gang of foul-smelling food baddies that get zapped a la "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" to illustrate how the pellets kill breath odors fast.

To illustrate the long-lasting flavor of Extra brand chicles, TV and print ads tout that the gum gives chewers the staminato endure a cross-country bus ride.

Wrigley's creative for Polar Ice tells the target 12- to 24-year-olds not to chew the icy pellets or they'll turn into polar bears. "If we had done that six years ago [the client] would have said, `You gotta be kidding me,"' said Jim Hyman, senior VP-group creative director.

X-CITED

Wrigley is also tapping into elements of the marketing mix previously ignored, including the Internet, on-pack promotions and a possible foray into licensing.

It may be too early to tell whether the approach is working. Wrigley held 55% of the sugared gum market and 44% of the sugarless gum market for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 27, according to Information Resources Inc., in food, drug and mass merchandisers (excluding Wal-Mart and outlets such as newsstands, where gum is also sold). Nearest rival Pfizer held 12%. But Pfizer grew six times faster in the category: 24% vs. Wrigley's 4%. In sugarless gum, however, Wrigley's share was up 29%.

It has been good for BBDO, however: The client handed the shop an assignment for Orbit and Omnicom sibling Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, London, will handle the European launch of a mint-gum hybrid called X-Cite in April.

For Mr. Gant, the work finally is living up to a goal he and Ms. Boney made years ago: that they wouldn't rest until "Wrigley became our Pepsi," he said, with a nod to the New York office's prize client. "There were a lot of long hard nights when nobody wanted to talk about the Wrigley advertising, so it's extremely gratifying."

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