Biscuits are more than just snacks, they are the marketing tool for Mondelēz

Biscuits are more than just a snack for multinational snack company Mondelēz International, which is constantly pushing the boundaries with innovative biscuit designs and using them to showcase the purposes of the various brands under its umbrella. They include Oreo, Tiger, Jacobs, Ritz and Chips Ahoy!. Mondelēz's regional marketing director for Southeast Asia, Nikhil Rao, told Marketing that biscuits are more than just snacks to fill consumers’ stomachs. Instead, especially in challenging times like these, people are turning to snacks as a form of daily satisfaction to provide them a sense of normalcy and a common ground for shared experiences, connections and identity.

"Consumers are searching for more meaning within the brands they are purchasing products from. Bigger brands with a more relevant purpose are connecting with audiences better. People are looking for strong anchors and brands they trust," he said. As a result, Mondelēz is seeing a marked difference between the growths of big brands with a powerful purpose compared to smaller brands, Rao added.

To ensure its messaging is relevant to today's times, Mondelēz evolved its Jacob's Merdeka campaign from 2019 that celebrates original Malaysians to now salute the original unsung heroes fighting the pandemic in Malaysia. Done in collaboration with Leo Burnett Malaysia, the recent campaign celebrated individuals such as technopreneur Adrian Wong and his team which crowdsources material and 3D print personal protective equipment to overcome shortages during the pandemic. It also featured hairstylist Nur Azima Burhan who gives free haircuts to vulnerable communities, among others. Malaysians were also encouraged to nominate their own original Malaysians using the Jacob’s AR face filter.

jacobs merdeka day 2020

In addition to featuring the unsung heroes on its biscuits, Mondelēz also aimed to spread cheer to Southeast Asian consumers via its #SayitWithOreo activation, under the brand's "Stay Playful" communication platform. Together with Publicis Groupe Indonesia, the brand released a limited-edition Oreo pack with special emoji and alphabet embossed cookies. Rao previously said that the activation allowed Mondelēz to make Oreo live its positioning of "Stay Playful" as consumers could literally play with the cookie.

"In Southeast Asia, we operate an open marketplace for ideas, where anyone and everyone is encouraged to share their ideas and can request resources to execute them. Our innovative idea #SayitWithOreo activation was one such idea pitched by a team member in Indonesia. Another example is 'The Oreo Cookie Takeover’ on Oreo’s 108th Birthday. We took over ‘site cookies’ on several popular websites and hijacked them with real Oreo cookies as a birthday return gift," Rao explained when asked where the brand looks to for inspiration.

Meanwhile with more consumers staying indoors and participating in activities such as baking and cooking, Rao said there is also a receptiveness towards brand campaigns that align with remaining at home. To cheer consumers up, Oreo rolled out digital campaigns such as "Oreo Raya Baking" and "Oreo Stay Playful" to keep consumers occupied at home with interesting recipes such as no bake cream pudding with Oreo and honey cornflakes cup with Oreo. Not surprisingly, the brand has also seen consumption patterns shifting to healthier options such as biscuits, dairy products, fruits and vegetables. Shoppers have also moved to larger format stores and eCommerce platforms for their grocery shopping.

Its innovative take on biscuits seems to be paying off, with the brand clocking "double-digit revenue growths with excellent market share gains", Rao said. "Our focus on both creative excellence as well as media best practices have helped us increase our relatability, establish stronger rapport with existing fans, gain new ones and build brand love, leading to top quartile levels of ROI," he added.

To ensure its innovations remain a hit, Rao said the company has invested in video connections directly with its consumers and also utilises social listening tools to stay updated on consumers' opinions. In-house consumer surveys are also regularly carried out to find out how people snack, the motivations behind why they snack, and tapping on new trends to create new products.

"It is in our DNA to remain as agile and ready as possible, utilising our deep understanding of consumers’ needs and always thinking ahead. We will continue to relentlessly innovate to allow Mondelēz International to stay ahead of the curve," Rao added.

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Doubling down on marketing

The pandemic has led to the tightening of purse strings for brands. While Kraft Heinz recently announced that it will increase its marketing and ad spend by 30% as part of its new strategy, companies including Coca-Cola and Airbnb cut back on marketing spend earlier this year. In Mondelēz's case, its chairman and CEO Dirk Van de Put said during its second quarter earnings call in 30 June that it is planning "a significant increase" in investments behind working media in the second half, capitalising on the strength and demand for its brands and built on its increased market share.

"We are also making adjustment to some of our advertising copy and campaigns to make them more relevant in the current context. Seeing the fact that the consumer is driven more to our core offerings, it is an ideal moment to simplify our portfolio as well as our innovation pipeline to focus on our value-driving core," he added during the call.

In Southeast Asia, Rao said he believes its brands and marketing activations have stood the test of COVID-19 and hence, it continues to invest in engaging with consumers.

"We are investing in paid media and consumer outreach as we find that consumers are responding positively to what we have to say, and this has led to accelerated growth and market share gains," he added. Approximately 30% to 50% of its spends are on digital, as its consumer base for the biscuits category is geared towards younger consumers, with more than half of them being Millennials and Gen Zs.

When it comes to this target group, Rao explained that they prefer brands that provide experiential and interactive engagement rather than being broadcasted to. There is also a preference for convenience stores and eCommerce and they gravitate towards brands that have a strong purpose they can relate to. They also show heightened concern towards the environment, their health and wellness, sustainability and prefer to purchase products from companies with good business practices.

According to Rao, its activations such as the Oreo red velvet - make Oreo blush in Southeast Asia and Biskuat Academy in Indonesia - creating the next generation of Tigers have resonated better with audiences than usual due to the campaign's interactive elements.

On the eCommerce front, it has partnerships with companies such as Amazon and Lazada, and is also testing new upcoming social and eCommerce platforms to learn how it can benefit from using them. When asked if Mondelēz is considering platforms such as TikTok and Snap for Southeast Asia in particular, Rao said it is always keen to experiment and are conducting a series of tests and learnings from them. "We are still testing out the end-to-end efficacy of these platforms - including brand safety, data monitoring and linkage to our broader activation platforms," he added.

Likewise, it is also constantly on the lookout for ideas to improve its engagement and ROI. In 2019, it partnered with Silverpush for its Oreo Spiderman promotion. Silverpush is a technology that helps target consumers by identifying visuals in the video instead of using personal data for our Oreo Spiderman promotion.

"We are also constantly working on experiments with personalisation of content at scale with our global partners, end-to-end activation by roping in e-commerce partners, and augmented reality to bring our brand promotions alive," he said.

Marketing in a fragmented region

Despite Southeast Asia might be a diverse region, Mondelēz remains undaunted. Like many brands, it takes a local-first approach which helps its product innovation cater to local tastes and allow brand campaigns to strike a chord with cultural dexterity. According to Rao, the company creates and evolves products based on the demands and local taste preferences of its consumers. Its innovations are a result of how it navigates the sweet spot of leveraging its global strengths to address local needs and tastes.

For example, it has localised products including Tiger Crackers in popular local flavours such as Leche Flan and Ensaymada in the Philippines and Kinh Do Pizza on a Bun in Vietnam. When it comes to brand campaigns, Mondelēz focuses on tapping into universal human truths while staying true to specific market cultures and nuances.

Rao cited the Oreo L’il Pirate campaign done this year as a example, which targeted a strong insight among young families across Southeast Asia and its recent campaign for Kinh Do Mooncakes. The latter campaign celebrated Kinh Do's role in Vietnam as the custodian of the fine craft of baking mooncakes. Kinh Do was acquired by Mondelēz in 2016. 

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