80 Years of Ideas

Snickers Uses Humor to Satisfy Generations of Hunger

World's Best-Selling Candy Bar Has Differentiated Itself With the Idea That It's More Than Just a Chocolate Snack

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Talk about a depression baby with staying power: Snickers, introduced in 1930, is a $2 billion brand proposition today.

BACK TO BASICS: According to Phil Lempert, Snickers must work harder to reach back into the core audience that built the brand: baby boomers.
BACK TO BASICS: According to Phil Lempert, Snickers must work harder to reach back into the core audience that built the brand: baby boomers.
Snickers became the world's best-selling candy bar in part by incorporating nougat, caramel and nuts -- and selling the product as a filling, premium-quality snack. "What Snickers did really intelligently was position itself as being satisfying and really separating itself out as not being a candy bar but more nourishing, more of a food," said supermarket consultant Phil Lempert. It's the precursor, in a way, to the modern-day energy bar.

Then again, its secret could be the peanuts, which was an important point of difference at the time of the brand's introduction. Mars spokesman Ryan Bowling noted that Snickers ads from the 1930s and 1940s "really play up the premium quality" of the bar.

Frank Mars, who learned to dip candies from his mother while recovering from polio, began selling molasses candy in 1902. But he didn't find major commercial success until he launched his son Forrest's Milky Way candy bar in 1923.

Milky Way got the family business going, but it was soon to be eclipsed by Mr. Mars' own Snickers, introduced in 1930 for 5 cents. With a handful of strong product introductions, including Snickers and Three Musketeers, Mr. Mars grew his company during the Depression.

Four-legged namesake
Frank and Ethel named Snickers after a favorite horse. A pair of thoroughbred racing fans, the Mars' Milky Way horse farm in Tennessee had nearly 1,000 employees at one time, and produced Gallahadion, winner of the 1940 Kentucky Derby. Sadly, Mr. Mars didn't live long enough to enjoy much of either success. He died of kidney and heart problems in 1934, when he was just 50.

In addition to commitments to quality and innovation, Mars has worked to keep Snickers in particular on the cutting edge of marketing. Its print ads from the 1930s and 1940s play up peanuts. Snickers became a sponsor of "The Howdy Doody Show" from 1949 to 1952, but its longest-running campaign was "Packed With Peanuts, Snickers Satisfies," from 1979 to 1995, from then-agency Ted Bates Worldwide.

Today, Snickers is a more than $2 billion brand, and the leading chocolate candy bar. Sales rose 1% last year as the brand relied heavily on the "Snacklish" campaign, from TBWA, New York.

"People are eating Snickers to bring that moment of joy," said Mr. Bowling, adding that value-price candy has done well in this Great Recession, as it did back in the Great Depression when the brand launched. "I think that's why products like chocolate have been successful through tough economic times."

Snickers built share with advertising that was bold and sometimes controversial. For the 2007 Super Bowl, Mars pulled a Snickers spot after the big game depicting men munching on either side of the bar and accidentally kissing in the middle, after complaints from prominent gay and lesbian organizations. Snickers returned to the Super Bowl this year with a spot from BBDO, New York, launching the tagline: "You're not you when you're hungry." The ad won USA Today's ad meter, and resulted in a "Saturday Night Live" gig for Betty White after a popular Facebook campaign. A subsequent spot stars Aretha Franklin and Liza Minnelli.

Of course, in an era of "better for you" alternatives, there are obvious challenges for the candy-bar business. Mr. Lempert noted that the rise of energy bars has been tough for Snickers, which owned the filling-snack niche 20 years ago.

"They've got to work a little harder, especially with the younger generation, but also reaching back into the core audience that built the brand: baby boomers," he said. To do that, Mars has to give them "permission" to eat a candy bar, by adding calcium, or Vitamin D.

But Lynn Dornblaser, director-CPG insight at Mintel, suggested that Snickers' staying power lies in part with its stability. "For the most part it has not changed substantially in its lifetime," she said.

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