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A Gum Commercial to Make You Cry as Wrigley and Mondelez Plot Gum Comebacks

Category's Woes Blamed on Everything From Economy to Skinny Jeans

By Published on . 2

Gum is stuck in a sales rut and there are plenty of reasons why, according to analysts. Teenagers have less money to spend. There is more competition from other snacks, including mints. Even skinny jeans have played a role, said one analyst.

Gum "couldn't fit in pockets," said Matt Hudak, who covers the snack sector for Euromonitor International. While brands have started to solve that issue with slimmer packs, the category's larger issues remain. Sugarless gum sales fell 6.6% to $2.7 billion in the year ending July 14, according to IRI. "There's just apathy toward it," Mr. Hudak said. "Marketers definitely need to reignite a passion somewhere with someone."

But how? The nation's two largest gum marketers, Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. and Mondelez International, appear to be coming up with two different approaches. Mondelez, whose brands include Trident and Stride, has foreshadowed a return to more functional messaging with an emphasis on benefits such as oral health, rather than the more emotional approach that CEO Irene Rosenfeld recently characterized as "a little bit too esoteric."

By contrast, Wrigley is tugging at heartstrings in the newest campaign for Extra, the marketer's second-largest gum brand behind Orbit. The campaign, which breaks this week, debuts with a TV spot that puts Extra at the center of emotional moments between a father and daughter. The agency is Omnicom Group's Energy BBDO, Chicago.

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The kicker, "sometimes the little things last the longest," is a nod to the brand's longtime positioning as a long-lasting gum. But the campaign's softer tone moves away from the practical benefits the gum had been promoting, including weight management. "We are trying to turn around and grow the gum category and we wanted to have a more broadly appealing benefit," said Anne Marie Splitstone, senior gum category director at Wrigley. While weight management "works with a sub-segment of the population, it doesn't have the broadest appeal," she added.

Extra Dessert Delights
Extra Dessert Delights

Much of the calorie-counting campaign had been run through the Extra Dessert Delights line extension, which launched in 2010 and is positioned as a dessert replacement with flavors such as mint chocolate chip and rainbow sherbet. But of late, sales haven't been so sweet, falling 30% in the 52 weeks ending July 14 to $58.4 million, according to IRI. By contrast, regular Extra grew 2.45% to $313.7 million.

"The diet idea was quasi-sensible at first" for Extra, Mr. Hudak said. But as high protein diets became more popular, "the idea that you can just give [consumers] gum to chew on to eliminate cravings [is] not working quite as well." Ms. Splitstone said Dessert Delights remains a "critical part of the Extra brand" but added that Wrigley wants to focus more on the "total Extra business versus the sub-line."

Gum's decline began in 2009 as rising teen unemployment triggered spending cutbacks, Credit Suisse analyst Robert Moskow stated in a report earlier this year. And as the economy got better other categories like chocolate and energy drinks did a better job than gum of "capitalizing on the improving trend," the report noted. Wrigley, which controls 56.04% of the sugarless gum market in the U.S., suffered a 5.54% decline across its brands in the year ending July 14, according to IRI. Mondelez, which has 35.8% share, fared even worse as sales fell by 9.04%.

Mr. Moskow blamed advertising cutbacks for some of the category's woes. Mars-owned Wrigley dropped U.S. ad support for gum to $110 million in 2011 from a peak of $240 million in 2008 when it's flavorful "5" brand launched. Credit Suisse's research "shows that consumers still love gum chewing -- they just need to be reminded to do it more often," the report stated. Mondelez and Wrigley began ramping spending up again in 2012, but "support appears to be below where it was in 2009," Credit Suisse said in the report, which was published in April.

One of Wrigley's big marketing plays this year, a caffeinated gum called Alert, faltered when it was pulled after the Food and Drug Administration raised concerns.

Mondelez is plotting what Ms. Rosenfeld characterized on a recent earnings call as "hard-hitting advertising that focuses on functional benefits such as oral care." The marketer in February moved the domestic Trident account to Wieden & Kennedy from Saatchi & Saatchi, which had created the "See What Unfolds" campaign that positioned the brand for fun times. Credit Suisse criticized that approach as being too generic. "A lot of candy and gum brands can promise fun," the report stated, noting the ads ignored Trident's "point of difference in oral care."

As for Wrigley, Ms. Splitstone said the best way to grow the gum category is with functional and emotional messaging, noting that the marketer's large gum portfolio allows room for both. Even as Extra takes a softer tone, Orbit's latest campaign plugs the gum as a way to get that "just-brushed clean feeling" after meals.

And there is some evidence consumers are eating that message up: Orbit's sales grew 10.18% to $458.3 million in the year ending July 14, according to IRI.

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