GREAT BRITISH BRANDS: Walkers - Walkers' Dash to the Top, Booted Up There by Footballer Gary Linekar, Proves the Power of Advertising

Article excerpt

Walkers Crisps is officially the nation's favourite. According to figures from Marketing's Biggest Brands Survey, we munch our way through nearly pounds 490m-worth of Walkers Crisps every year - that's nearly 11 million packs sold each day.

This not only makes Walkers by far the biggest crisp brand in the UK (its sales are four times that of its nearest rival, Pringles) but Britain's second biggest brand of all, surpassed only by Coca-Cola. More than that, with the success of the Gary Lineker campaign, it has a marketing idea that looks likely to run and run - it even went so far as to rename salt and vinegar 'salt and Lineker'.

The story starts in 1853, when the appropriately named George Crum, a chef in a US hotel, invented the crisp. The new wonder snack didn't hit our shores until 1920, when Frank Smith, a north London grocer, started selling crisps in open grease-proof bags. Walkers Crisps themselves didn't appear until 1948, when Henry Walker, a pork butcher in Leicester, was looking for something new to boost trade during the lean years of food rationing. Though meat was rationed, crisps were not, so he set his staff to cutting and frying potatoes and soon saw business booming, eventually automating the process in the 1950s.

Though Walkers steadily grew into one of the UK's biggest crisp brands, it remained a predominantly Midlands brand for many years. Golden Wonder, owned by Dalgety before being taken over by a management buyout in 1995, had more national muscle. But when US giant PepsiCo acquired Walkers in 1989, folding the brand into its Frito-Lay business, the Leicestershire crisp maker took on a new lease of life.

Rapid growth followed, making Walkers the UK's biggest snack brand by 1991 with sales of pounds 170m, compared with pounds 65m for Golden Wonder (ACNielsen).

By 1996, Walkers sales were pounds 300m (Golden Wonder had slumped to pounds 45m) and it had become the UK's second biggest brand behind Coke.

A huge factor in this success - as well as the distribution muscle of PepsiCo - has been Walkers' award-winning advertising. The agency that started the ball rolling was BMP DDB, which won the Walkers account from Young &Rubicam in July 1994. Its first effort was something of a false start - the little-remembered Walkers 'duck', starring a talking duck from Leicester that found pounds 20 in his packet of Walkers Crisps but had no wallet to put it in.

BMP's next idea was to prove more successful. Ex-England striker Gary Lineker had recently quit Japanese football and, it seemed, was about to head into obscurity. …


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