BRAND HEALTH CHECK: BERNARD MATTHEWS - Has life stayed bootiful for Bernard Matthews? It's Christmas time, so we turn the heat up on Bernard Matthews, the man who gave his name and Norfolk twang over to create Britain's most famous bird.

For this seasonal health check, Marketing wanted an image of Bernard Matthews and his 'bootiful' turkeys, but a spokeswoman told us he 'no longer appears in ads'.

For this seasonal health check, Marketing wanted an image of Bernard Matthews and his 'bootiful' turkeys, but a spokeswoman told us he 'no longer appears in ads'.

No more Bernard? And that's not all. Apparently, turkeys are 'only a small part of the business', which also incorporates cooked meats and chicken nuggets.

But even if turkeys aren't big business all year round, Christmas is when it counts, and you can pretty much guarantee that, come Monday, many of us will be tucking into a succulent bird with all the trimmings.

Last month, Matthews privatised his company after seeing off an aggressive bid from cakes-to-Wonderbra giant Sara Lee.

The Bernard Matthews company claims to be the brand leader in frozen whole turkeys. It has launched a number of products, such as crumb-coated turkey-shaped 'Aliens', and says it commands more than 80% share of the children's novelty market. Total company turnover in 1999 was pounds 344m.

But is the company making the most of its historic brand? Do we want to see Matthews on TV chatting about his birds, or should he let the turkeys spread their wings and do the talking themselves?

Perhaps the public is getting bored of turkey. A friend of mine has defiantly declared his house a no-poultry zone and will be cooking Beef Wellington on Monday.

Marketing plucked two of adland's finest to examine Bernard's current turkey strategy and asked what they want from their birds.

Hugh Burkitt, chairman of Burkitt DDB, started his career at Bird's Eye, where he test-marketed the launch of turkey dinners for one.

John Townshend, chief executive of Rapier, was born and bred in Bernard's home county of Norfolk.



Vital signs

Brand                  1997 sales      1999 sales     % change

                    (000s tonnes)   (000s tonnes)

Birds Eye Wall''s               20              29         45.0

Bernard Matthews               11              17         54.5

Sun Valley                     18               4        -77.8

Other producers                38              60         57.9

Source: Mintel - UK market share of further processed chicken and turkey

producers





DIAGNOSIS

Hugh Burkitt

As far as I'm concerned, turkey comes just once a year. But that's not enough for Bernard. He's killing 15 million a year and needs to dispose of them in ever more ingenious ways.

So there's Turkistix and Turkey Ham and a Flavours Of The World Chilled Meals range that consists largely of turkey. It all sounds like the factory, rather than the consumer, is driving the business.

But Bernard does understand children. His Turkey Dinosaurs are dead popular in my home with Charlie and Daniel, aged six and four.

Bernard on-screen doesn't quite have the kid appeal of Captain Bird's Eye, but he's definitely worth an advertising preservation order.

I hope with the City off his back and the company back in his own hands that Bernard will relax a bit up there in Norfolk, find some new outlets for his creative energies and give the turkeys a break. Life is bootiful, even for turkeys.



John Townshend

Did you know that once upon a time Bernard Matthews kept his turkeys in that big house you used to see in his TV ads? And after a few years, a lot of turkeys moved out and one moved in.

But that's a cheap shot - in fact, Bernard's ads were never better than when Matthews fronted them himself.

Since then, he's made turkey pieces in all sorts of shapes and sizes out of the poor birds - from dinners to dinosaurs. It's this area that gives us the first of three significant marketing initiatives, cooked up in Rapier's strategic fat-fryer - Tactical Turkeys

How about William Hague Turkey Pieces: single embryo-like shapes formed out of turkey squelch and breadcrumbs. A child's portion, of course. Or the Turkey Paddle to help those living in flooded areas. Or even the Turkey Dome - OK, it's a bit late, but surely a commemorative pack of Dome-shape delicacies would be apt for the turkey of the millennium?



TREATMENT

Burkitt's beliefs

Join a yoga class.

Keep turkeys for Christmas time.

Get into geese. Delia Smith is pushing recipes for goose.

There's a lot of concern these days about children eating all the wrong things. You could become a hero among do-gooding nutritionists by launching a healthy vegetable product that kids will eat.



Townshend's tips

Create an online brand. We've had boo.com. Where the Dickens was bootiful.com?

Sponsor other people's ads - a ten-second sting at the end of any ad deemed worthy of the Bernard Matthews 'It's a turkey' tagline. Potential opportunities include Ferrero Rocher's new one, any ad for Citroen or Renault, and Grolsch. You can't top a Grolsch, but you certainly can top the current ads



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