Smucker’s Sees Its New Approach to Advertising Pay Off as Sales Soar

Key Insights:

  • More time and space to pitch ideas has led to more creativity and risk-taking.
  • It’s better to be controversial and memorable than safe and forgettable.

The J.M. Smucker Company admits that some of its past advertising hasn’t been all that great. Maybe even a bit boring. Too many agencies working independently of each other made the process slow, the costs bloated and the resulting campaigns so bland that the public hardly seemed to notice.

“Our creative was safe, vanilla and not breaking through,” said Geoff Tanner, Smucker’s chief marketing and commercial officer.

In late 2018, Smucker’s took major steps to change this pattern, transforming the way it does advertising. Following what Tanner called a “very honest assessment,” the company consolidated all creative and media responsibilities under Publicis Groupe, which pitched its Power of One model. Publicis Groupe debuted its Power of One concept in late 2015, billing it as an all-encompassing solution for clients that provides access to the holding company’s “entire know-how and expertise.”

Gail Hollander, brand agency leader at Publicis Groupe, explained that Smucker’s used to operate more in a siloed, fragmented fashion, with 10 agencies handling various aspects of its business, such as public relations and consumer promotions.

“Each agency would go off and do their thing then come back and put stuff on the table, but none of it really belonged together,” she said.

Under the new system, Smucker’s, which owns brands such as Folgers, Jif and Meow Mix, has unique marketing teams dedicated to each of its three U.S. retail segments: coffee, pet foods and consumer foods. Each team consists of people with a variety of backgrounds and skill sets, such as media, creative or analytics. The arrangement helps prevent one group of people from developing a creative element that doesn’t align with the data or can’t be delivered via media.

The benefit for Smucker’s, apart from lowered cost, has been fewer logistical headaches, quicker turnaround times and more imaginative ideas.

“I believe that the quality of the work is highly correlated with the number of rounds you can put in,” said Tanner. “The more rounds you can build in, the more chances you’re going to take and the more ability you have to pivot when it fails or it’s not working.”

Now, amid a bump in sales, Tanner says Smucker’s is better equipped to jump on trends and connect with both today’s and tomorrow’s consumers.

A new ad for its Folgers brand, for instance, pokes fun at the pitfalls of working from home. In a virtual meeting, a pant-less man’s camera is angled too low, exposing his bare thighs to two colleagues.

“We want to ensure that our brands are a part of culture, part of the conversation. That’s what keeps them relevant and top of mind,” said Tanner, who noted that the new Folgers commercial would not have been made under Smucker’s former multi-agency model.

The 15-second spot, which ends with the familiar “The Best Part of Wakin’ Up” Folgers jingle, is scheduled to run on TV, social and online video through the current fiscal year. And an earlier Folgers ad created under the new system shows a woman accidentally walking in on her father-in-law in the shower, following which a choir singing the Folgers jingle appears with a fresh cup of morning coffee.

Restaurant and office closures following the Covid-19 outbreak has meant more people are brewing coffee at home. The change in behavior has benefitted Smucker’s, which, in addition to its Folgers and Café Bustelo coffee brands, also manages Dunkin’s line of at-home products. For the quarter ending July 31, Smucker’s U.S. retail coffee business saw year-over-year sales increase 23% to $571 million.

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