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.