Mars Wrigley: Insights into FMCG brand-building

How does an FMCG giant like Mars bring its brands to life for consumers? How does it respond to the challenge of tapping into the growing online market? Victoria Hattersley spoke to Richard Walzer, Head of Design, EMEA at Mars Wrigley – the corporation’s confectionery arm – to get an insight into the company’s approach to the above challenges and more.

In today’s multi-faceted retail environment, achieving – and maintaining – strong brand visibility is more complex than ever. The ever-more crowded online marketplace, increased demand to interact with consumers in a more ‘authentic’ way, and the decline of more traditional bricks-and-mortar stores are just some of the challenges to be faced.

Even a company like Mars Wrigley, with a brand stable that is recognised throughout the world, must work constantly to maintain its strong market presence.

Rebranding SNICKERS®

On an individual brand level, one of the first steps is to identify the market penetration barriers for an individual product category. For Richard Walzer, this is key to driving brand growth. 

“Once we’ve worked out what these barriers are, we need to look at how we can overcome them through design. One example I’m quite proud of is SNICKERS®. It’s one of the best-selling chocolate bar brands in the world  and when I joined the company five years ago wand looked at our previous packaging design it was quite brown – the same colour as the category – so it was difficult to get noticed in store.”

Looking at it from this perspective, it’s easy to see why a fresh approach may have been overdue. The company has developed a new branding design system for Snickers which it is now rolling out across the world.

“We put an awful lot of effort into working out what was distinctive about the Snickers brand – what personality we wanted to bring to life on the shelf. Now you’ll see a colour balance that’s red and white and blue, with brown. This has repositioned the brand from being quite recessive on-shelf  to standing out.”

The ‘impulsivity element’

Today, FMCG companies face particular challenges when it comes to achieving success in the growing e-commerce market.

When a person purchases a bar of chocolate, this is more often than not an impulse buy triggered by behavioural moments for the consumer. And whereas before this impulsivity element would not be a challenge for Mars Wrigley as a business, when it comes to today’s marketplace it’s a little more problematic.

“When you fancied a treat in the past, you needed to be there in the moment. For example, people might go into a petrol station to pay for their petrol and buy a bar of chocolate for the journey. Now they often pay at the pump, so that opportunity for a sale is being lost.”

And clearly, this impulsivity factor presents even more challenges online. To some extent, this comes down to the marketing conundrum of ‘System 1 vs. System 2’ thinking. For those unfamiliar with the terms, System 1 thinking is instinctive. If you purchase a product this way, you are making a rapid decision based on emotion rather than rational thought. System 2 decision-making, on the other hand, requires more effort and attention (i.e. stopping to think: ‘Do I really need this bar of chocolate?’). The delay you get from the latter when thinking about making an online purchase isn’t necessarily favourable for snacking and treating products. Yes, a consumer may see a picture of a Snickers bar and think they’d like some chocolate, but how does that translate into a sale? After all, if a chocolate bar is purchased online it can’t be consumed instantly.

But in fact, Mars Wrigley believes the e-retailer landscape is creating even more opportunities to bring treats and snacks to the consumer. “Today, the triggers for impulse purchase do not necessarily have to lead to immediate consumption. It’s about guiding the consumer to make connections. For example, if a consumer is shopping online for a birthday party or graduation, our products – like M&M’S or Skittles – have a place in their shopping cart.”

And for any brand, regardless of category, there is also the all-important question of how it is presented online to achieve optimum visibility. We have seen a lot of companies shifting from a simple thumbnail of the pack shot to a clearer online image or focusing on the brand’s distinctive assets to achieve noticeably with just a few pixels. “In the case of M&Ms, this might be the characters associated with the brand; or in the case of Snickers it’s what we call the ‘epic crop’, which is a corner of our logo.”

Only connect

Taking the above into account, how is Mars Wrigley itself going about selling products online? “We’re looking at ways to engage consumers in their digital browsing, socialising and shopping journeys to re-create those impulse purchase trigger moments. In addition, we look to tap into growing customer demand for personalisation or premiumisation. If you can offer something that is exclusively online – a novelty product that is different to those you can buy in the shops – a consumer might be more willing to wait rather than requiring instant gratification.

After all, branding today is about engaging with and relating to consumers and their needs. To this end, Mars Wrigley’s partnership with the Chinese online and mobile commerce group Alibaba is indicative of this wider trend towards establishing a more ‘symbiotic’ relationship.

Back in 2016, the two companies announced a global strategic business partnership through which Mars Wrigley could leverage Alibaba’s most recent offering: product and brand development. As part of this, Mars Wrigley was able to use Alibaba’s marketing platforms, media properties, mobile reach, big data and consumer insights to directly engage with its hundreds of millions of customers in the Chinese market.

“This partnership has allowed us to engage directly with consumers and learn more about them, too. It also means we can launch something on a small scale – such as the online exclusive limited-edition Spicy Snickers, which was developed after studying the market data – and understand how it works and whether it’s worth bringing to market on a wider scale. By doing historical consumer research, you are basically getting consumer input into future product design.

“This can also work for packaging design and branding – things like customisation, or more simplified packaging. You could use the data to see if consumers would buy into the idea of the product being sold in that manner.”

The interactive approach

These discussions about a more interactive approach to brand development and consumer engagement also feed into something we have covered increasingly at Packaging Europe: augmented reality. (In fact, our most recent issue was entirely dedicated to the subject!) What opportunities does Richard see for AR when it comes to FMCG?

“I think it’s interesting, but I don’t believe we have seen anyone in FMCG supremely own this space so far. Of course when it first came out, nearly a decade ago, it was very exciting and lots of concepts were being thrown around – but the reality is that when it comes to on-shelf products, consumers typically spend less than a couple of seconds on each purchase. They don’t really want to waste their time getting their phone out etc. It probably works better for things that are sitting in front of you on the dinner table, like a cereal packet or ketchup bottle.”

That’s not to say there isn’t potential for the future in a supermarket setting. “It may work if there are scenarios where for example you wear a pair of AR glasses that block out half the shelf so you can only see the choices you want. This could be great for those on special diets, like coeliacs. I think Google glasses will happen, and you could then use them to drive brand engagement and bring the product to life, which would be really exciting.”

An infinite shelf?

All these strategies are key to ensuring a brand can differentiate itself from the competition in a crowded online marketplace. Indeed, every now and then we hear talk about the ‘infinite shelf’ – the idea that there are so many options available online these days, often at cheaper prices, that it can ultimately be damaging to large brand owners that have previously dominated the market. What is Richard’s take on this? Is it a real issue?

“I think it’s an interesting term but I’m not sure it genuinely exists, simply because of what we know about consumer behaviour. Consumers want our brands because they love what we sell, the trust is there and our branding is instantly recognisable, so while there are more options and therefore greater competition, I believe consumers will continue to desire our brands.

“I don’t actually think a plethora of choice is of interest to consumers. Consumers want enough choice to find what they want, but an infinite number of options to go through is simply too confusing and time-consuming. Our job is to make sure our brand is always in the top two or three options that the consumer thinks about. Personally, I don’t see that circumstance changing.”

Continuously adapting

What does all the above tell us? For a company such as Mars Wrigley – well-established throughout the world – the challenge is not so much about brand-building per se as it is about continuously refreshing existing brands to adapt to a constantly-evolving retail environment.

From a packaging point of view, it’s been instructive to get a snapshot of how just one FMCG giant approaches this challenge, particularly with regard to the online marketplace. Success is never guaranteed – even for an acknowledged global leader.