Martin Glenn is a self-confessed marketing iconoclast. He sees the distinction between ‘above the line’ and ‘below the line’ as nonsensical. He thinks marketers should look to improve on existing products rather than forever trying to be different. He believes marketers get too wrapped up in theory instead of focusing on practical marketing. He also believes that direct marketing can be a powerful tool that can deliver real growth to a brand.
Glenn may sound like a brash young arriviste to the marketing scene but he is anything but. What makes him really worth listening to – and why over 100 marketers turned up to hear him speak at the recent An Post Early Bird breakfast seminar in Dublin – is that his observations are informed by 30 years in the FMCG business. He is currently CEO of the €1 billion Birds Eye/Iglo frozen foods business, whose fortunes he has helped revive since the business was bought from Unilever by private equity group Permira in 2006. Before that he was president of PepsiCo UK, where he was in charge of a £2 billion business with a double-digit operating margin.
Glenn’s marketing ethos is best summed up by the story of Walkers crisps. It is now the UK’s top-selling crisp brand worth over £500 million annually but in the early 1990s, when it was acquired by PepsiCo, it seemed to be in terminal decline. Glenn was asked to assess where the Walkers brand was going and how it might be turned around.
Although the conventional wisdom suggested launching new lines and going head-to-head with some of the new snack formats entering the market, Glenn and his colleagues thought differently. They decided brand renewal was the way forward under a quality banner. In short, they wanted to make a better crisp. And they felt if they did so the consumer would respond.
So began a major product transformation programme whose various elements – investing in better crisp-cutting equipment in the factory, using foil bags to keep the crisps fresher longer, new TV ads featuring Gary Lineker – were all aimed at convincing the consumer that Walkers was not just another crisp, it was the crisp. The strategy worked, so much so that within a decade the brand had doubled its turnover and increased its profitability by a factor of eight.
For Glenn, the Walkers story proves that it often makes better commercial sense to improve an existing product rather than take the risk of launching something new. “Marketing people are trained to do ‘different’ rather than do ‘better’. I don’t agree. I think better beats different,” he says.
Glenn also takes issue with the slavish adherence in marketing circles to what he sees as arbitrary concepts. None more so than the ABL/BTL couplet. “I remember always being really confused by above- and below-the-line. I never knew what it meant. It was always almost like a marketing class system: if you did above-the-line stuff you were somehow doing proper marketing and that’s where all the senior people spent their time. Below-the-line was all the grubby stuff done by people who knew their careers were never going to take off.”
Perhaps fitting for a man who is a walking embodiment of the KISS (‘Keep it Simple Stupid’) principle, Glenn is a big fan of direct marketing and its unique targeting ability and measurability.
He says he first became aware of its potential in the 1980s as a brand manager with Mars-owned Pedigree pet food in the UK. A calendar promotion had elicited a massive response and suddenly they had a readymade DM list of 300,000 names. Except nobody realised this – least of all the marketing director – until Glenn invited in a DM agency to come in and have a look.
“We said, ‘look, we have all these names, what should we do with them?’. They simply couldn’t believe it: a database 300,000 recent buyers … The next year we direct-marketed to the previous buyers and we ended up selling 500,000 calendars. Not only did we make a profit but we succeeded in getting permanent branding in the home.”
Today, over twenty years later, DM is among the armoury of tools used by Birds Eye/ Iglo to target the legions of fish-finger buyers across Europe. The company combines some traditional door-drop activity with newer DM tools, such as a ‘bounce-back’ campaign that targets buyers of competing products. How this works is that when a consumer buys a competing brand at a Sainsbury and Tesco, a money-off coupon against their next purchase of Birds Eye Iglo fish fingers is printed off at the till.
Glenn says the company will continue to use DM as part of its promotional toolset.
“What I like about DM is that it’s infinitely improvable. You can keep testing and trying it differently again and again .”