ANALYSIS: How Walkers made a packet

Crisp marketing took on a whole new lease of life with Walkers’ imaginative campaigns. Claire Murphy looks at how the Pepsico brand turned itself around

Crisp marketing took on a whole new lease of life with Walkers’

imaginative campaigns. Claire Murphy looks at how the Pepsico brand

turned itself around

Fifty quid says that Martin Glenn, outgoing marketing director of

Walkers Snack Foods, has had more approaches from headhunters in the

past six months than his peers.

Glenn, who has managed to boost the market share of the Walkers brand

from 43% to 55% (IRI InfoScan) during two years at its helm, is to be

groomed for the higher echelons of the Pepsico organisation with a

country management job early in the new year.

Just four years ago, the brand was a distinctly unsexy one in the

unexciting crisps sector. United Biscuits’ KP Foods was setting the NPD

agenda with snack products, and Walkers, although crisps market leader,

was one of a portfolio of sluggish brands worrying Pepsico.

So what changed its fortunes? The cola giant bought the Walkers and

Smith’s businesses in 1989. It became the third owner of the brands in

three months after French group BSN (now Danone) bought the brands from

RJR Nabisco as part of a wider deal, then sold them straight on to


Pepsico started making its ownership felt immediately, bringing over a

series of US executives to sort out the management of the Leicester-

based firm, and cutting costs.

But the company was accused of trying to achieve too much too soon. It

introduced Cheetos and Ruffles - both US brands - in 1990 and 1991, but

they faltered as the marketing strategies were not sufficiently tailored

to the UK.

In 1992, Glenn was poached from Pedigree Petfoods to head the new

product development function, a crucial post for Walkers, and set about

preparing for the launch of corn-chip brand Doritos.

By the time Doritos was launched in 1994 to subsequent acclaim, Pepsico

had merged the Walkers and Smith’s operations and focused resources on a

few key brands. Glenn’s predecessor, Chris O’Leary, sacked the small

Midlands advertising agency that had handled the Walkers brand for 20

years, Meares Langley Moore, and brought in Young & Rubicam.

Glenn’s move into the marketing hot seat just after the Doritos launch

coincided with the appointment of BMP DDB, an agency he had worked with

at Schweppes earlier in his career.

It is no overstatement to say that the agency’s subsequent Gary Lineker

‘No More Mr Nice Guy’ ad campaign, which started at the beginning of

1995, has had a major effect on sales of the brand. But it is important

to recognise other factors which have led to a resurgence of the brand

and boosted the fortunes of the humble crisp in general.

Most observers agree that the product’s quality and freshness has

increased over the past few years - always a good way to attract more


The strength of Pepsico’s distribution system meant that the launch of

Walkers in Scotland in 1994 did some serious damage to Scots brand

leader Golden Wonder.

And the addition of a bit of Pepsico aggression did a wealth of good in

increasing facings of the brand. In the impulse sector, dedicated

shelving units increased impact, while in supermarkets the brand is

often as well represented as own-label, to the detriment of Golden


But it is worth noting that Glenn’s successful two-year stewardship of

the Walkers brand has coincided with a turbulent period for Golden

Wonder, going through the kind of ownership changes that dogged Walkers

in the late 80s.

Golden Wonder, newly bought out by its management, is now gearing up for

some major activity. Glenn’s successor, Mhairi McEwan, is likely to need

more than a friendly faced footballer to sustain the kind of growth

Walkers has had over the past couple of years.


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