Crisis in the Eye of the Beholder; Van Den Bergh's Marketing Director Bill Young Is "A Great Believer in Backing Winners." So What about That Ad Ban on Unilever's Spread?

By Johnston, Mike | Marketing, November 14, 1991 | Go to article overview

Crisis in the Eye of the Beholder; Van Den Bergh's Marketing Director Bill Young Is "A Great Believer in Backing Winners." So What about That Ad Ban on Unilever's Spread?


Johnston, Mike, Marketing


Bill Young is having a ball. Reclining relaxed, confident and smiling on the leatherette sofas in his ad agency McCann-Erickson, you would not guess that here is a man who has just had his multi-million pound global brand launch emasculated by the Independent Television Commission.

Crisis? What crisis? "It sounds awful, but it is a very stimulating time," says Young, 51-year-old marketing director of Unilever's market-ruling yellow fats firm Van den Berghs.

You imagine that the contrast with Young's protaganist, Butter Council chief executive Peter Morgan, could not be more intense as they survey the early results of a pitched and very public battle this week.

Young is, theoretically, the one in the eye of the storm following the ITC's ban on television ads for I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, Unilever's new reduced-fat, reduced-cholesterol, increased buttermilk, "buttery" spread import from North America.

The ITC thinks this spread is trying to pass itself off as butter, hence the advertising ban.

But this storm is proving mighty uplifting to Young's spirit -- not to mention his trade.

"If anything we are doing rather better than if the ITC hadn't banned the campaign."

Young has, naturellement, fired off a spicy letter to the ITC's controller of advertising, Frank Willis, making all the right noises about how it should be an English court--not the ITC--that rules upon the vagaries of the EC's "dairy designation" law.

But spare your tears. "At the moment we can take a fairly relaxed view of the ban," he says. "We have got 37% prompted brand awareness after six days' advertising."

It was the Butter Council that shopped the brand to the ITC in the first place, and, say well-placed sources, used its influence with the powerful agricultural interests in Brussels to add weight to its cause. Worried that a synthetic spread like I Can't Believe might steal the only weapon butter has left in its armoury -- taste -- the Butter Council had little choice but to act.

What contact doeos Young have with Morgan? "I've never met Peter... What did you say his last name was?"

Young has no sympathy for the butter barons. They are committing his supposed crime in reverse: using their dairy heritage to flog new "healthier" non-dairy spreads.

Slice Bill young down the middle and you'll find "Unilever" written straight through him. …

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