Sara Lee’s recent voluntary administration in Australia has left its Hong Kong fans shocked and upset as the Australian frozen dessert brand has been a culinary icon for Asian families for decades.
In fact, the news has drawn mixed reactions among Hong Kong netizens over the past 24 hours, with over 600 mentions observed, according to media intelligence firm CARMA. Among these mentions, 29.1% carried a negative sentiment, while 11.4% expressed a positive sentiment.
The discussions primarily took place on forums such as LIHKG and Hong Kong Discuss Forum, where netizens reminisced about their fond memories associated with Sara Lee's pound cake, said Charles Cheung, CARMA’s HK GM.
Many expressed hope that the administrator overseeing the process will be able to steer Sara Lee towards a positive outcome, preserving the brand and its products, Cheung added.
Meanwhile, social monitoring firm Meltwater saw 9.9% negative, 7.4% positive and 82.7% neutral sentiments regarding Hong Kong netizens’ feelings towards Sara Lee’s bankruptcy.
How can it market itself better after the restructuring?
While FTI Consulting’s administrators are still in talks with Sara Lee Australia’s management to continue operations, industry players MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to believed the beloved dessert brand may need to reposition its brand identity after it completes its restructuring.
Tim Chan, creative partner of Vibes Communications, said when targeting Asian consumers, the product itself plays a crucial role, particularly in terms of taste and sweetness. “Compared to Caucasians, Asians generally prefer less sweetness, and this preference is even more pronounced among females,” he added.
Furthermore, the introduction of new and unique flavours is another key factor that consumers consider, given the wide range of dessert products available from Japan, Taiwan, local brands, and homemade shops.
Apart from product diversification, given its rich heritage of producing quality frozen desserts, the brand can also bank on nostalgia marketing to foster consumer loyalty and drive sales. For example, the brand previously partnered with its distributor in Hong Kong, Uni-China Group, to pay homage to the collective memory of HongKongers with a new campaign.
Campaigns bringing back retro packaging, classic flavours, and "remember when" messaging could tap into that nostalgia, said David Ko, managing director, RFI Asia. “They could also partner with influencers who grew up with the brand to share their memories and connections. The key is balancing nostalgia with staying relevant,” he added.
Marketing campaigns that give a new feel to nostalgic brands can drive sales, said Brian Yeung, co-founder, Brandstorm Communications. For instance, Sara Lee could team up with international dessert competitors and call for creative ways of using Sara Lee's products in upscale dessert dishes, he added.
“The user-generated recipes from initiatives like this can help the brand sustain long-term appeal to customers,” he added.
Is a rebrand needed after a new buyer is sought?
Sometimes, a rebranding may be needed after a brand undergoes voluntary administration, for various reasons including mending reputation damage, differentiation from the past or strategic changes.
In this case, it may be a logical next step for Sara Lee to rebrand itself after an acquisition as rebranding is a good opportunity to rejuvenate itself with a new look while maintaining its nostalgic touch, said Brandstorm Communications’ Yeung.
“Should the buyer be a global conglomerate in the food and beverage sector, Sara Lee could consider a crossover partnership with the buyer's products portfolio as part of the rebranding exercise,” he added.
Rebranding may seem to be a necessary measure for Sara Lee to re-engage with global consumers, but it should be approached with caution.
The brand needs to carefully consider what aspects should be retained and what should be abandoned, said Vibes’ Chan. “It should also determine how to maximise existing brand assets and introduce new elements. I firmly believe that Sara Lee still holds significance for many people,” he added.
On the other hand, rebranding entirely also carries risks of losing existing brand equity. An incremental evolution of the branding is likely better to signal change while maintaining core identity, said RFI Asia’s Ko.
“However, a new buyer may want to put their own stamp on the brand. If so, Sara Lee should make sure to emphasise continuity in the redesigned branding and communicate changes thoughtfully to retain loyalists,” he said.
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