Sunday insight: We've all gone chocolate milk mad

By Joanna Mathers

Every day we’re bombarded by marketing campaigns designed to make us part with our cash. Every now and then one becomes a runaway success. We go behind the scenes of the Lewis Road Creamery campaign.

Lawrence Nicholson is a fan of Lewis Road Creamery Chocolate milk. Photo / Doug Sherring
Lawrence Nicholson is a fan of Lewis Road Creamery Chocolate milk. Photo / Doug Sherring

There's gold in every bottle of Lewis Road Creamery chocolate milk. It's the sort of gold that PR people dream about; a magical essence that gets tills ringing and social media buzzing. The gold in Lewis Road Creamery chocolate milk is of the marketing variety but this doesn't diminish its value; for marketing gold equals money.

Peter Cullinane, formerly the chief operating officer for Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide and founder of creative strategy company Assignment Group, is well versed in marketing. But he has never encountered anything like the frenzy that surrounds his company's latest product. "We had no idea that it would take off the way it has done," he says. "It has really captured people's imagination."

Queues in supermarkets, security guards, endless glowing Facebook posts and Instagram pix - the hype generated by this product has been astounding. To a critical eye it's seems too good to be true - that the crowds, security, and supply difficulties are part of a Machiavellian marketing ploy.

Cullinane is adamant this isn't the case. He says the hype (like the milk itself) is organic. "We had no idea that it would be so popular," he says. "And if we could keep up with the demand, we would."

Killer marketing campaigns such as this don't occur often; the Tui Catch a Million campaign at New Zealand cricket games last year is another example. But they equal big bucks for the companies who run them. There's art and science to successful marketing; an alignment of forces that capture the public imagination.

So what is it about these campaigns that have made them so successful? And why have they resonated so strongly with the people of New Zealand?

Much of Lewis Road Creamery's success can be found in a supermarket; New World in Freeman's Bay to be precise. It was here that Cullinane had the idea for the company, and where the products were first stocked. It's also the place where many fans of Lewis Road Creamery chocolate milk get their fix.

Cullinane used to buy Danish Lurpak butter here (better quality than New Zealand butters by his reckoning); and this got him thinking. "It struck me how ridiculous it was that the dairy capital of the world didn't produce good quality butter," he says.

Pairing with New Zealand's biggest organic dairy farm Green Valley Dairy, Cullinane launched Lewis Road Creamery; a boutique dairy company with a focus on simplicity and quality. And as he explains it, he "worked down the aisle" when it came to product development.

"I looked at how the dairy aisle was arranged - it had butter first, then milk, then flavoured milk. So we developed products in that order."

The flavoured milk didn't make a good impression on Cullinane. "It looked like candy," he says. The ethos behind Lewis Road Creamery was to make things as simple as possible - leaving stuff out rather than putting stuff in - and he was determined that his flavoured milk would be a far cry from the sickly offerings in the dairy cabinet.

Cullinane's Assignment Group represents Whittaker's; he had known Holly Whittaker (the marketing manager) for years. The ethos of the two companies was compatible; as a much-loved New Zealand brand, Whittaker's seemed an ideal partner in the flavoured milk venture.

He put a proposal to them around pairing their chocolate with his milk - they agreed it could work. "We were very fortunate that they came on board," says Cullinane. "It was an incredible compliment."


Peter Cullinane of Lewis Road Creamery. Photo / Michael Craig

The successful combination of Lewis Road Creamery milk and Whittaker's milk chocolate was serendipitous.

"We didn't spend much time developing the milk - probably took place over a two to three week period. We wanted to create liquid chocolate, and that's what it tastes like."
With the product developed (it was to be sold in 300ml for bottles for $3.59 and a 750ml bottles for $6.29) it was time to start creating a buzz.

The company has always had a strong social media presence; the first few posts were by Cullinane's nearest and dearest.

"Yes, the first Facebook posts were done by my wife and daughter, and then my daughter's friends. But then more and more people started liking the page - we were at about 7000 likes when the chocolate milk was launched."

The strategy around marketing the chocolate milk wasn't hugely complex; the Facebook page offered tantalising snaps of milk, paired with Whittaker's chocolate.
The response was instant and enthusiastic.

Tricia Fitzgerald's post on September 25 sums up the general sentiment: "Omg dont mess with us. Both fantastic products. A marriage made in foodie heaven."

There was also some "low-key PR". "Our agency sent samples to food writers and critics, and the product appeared in magazines."

The chocolate milk was launched in the first week of October, at Farro in Auckland and Moore Wilson in Wellington. Both stores sold out within the day. New World supermarkets started stocking the product, and day after day they sold out.

And then social media went wild.

"Most products have some detractors; people who say they were disappointed with the product. I'd say 499 out of 500 comments on our page would be positive," says Cullinane.
The Facebook page went from 7000 to 55,000 likes. "And our website got 275,000 hits in October," explains Cullinane.

Lawrence Nicholson is one of the Lewis Road chocolate milk fans who discovered the product via social media.

As a chocolate milk drinker, it was a tempting product. "I looked for it in a few supermarkets, before finding it a New World in Devonport," he says. "I tried it and thought 'gosh, I better sit down' - it was amazing."

He too posted on Facebook, sharing: "What was up until 2 mins ago an urban myth has now been purchased, partly consumed, and the jitters of joy vibrate...it's made my day."


The Lewis Road Creamery at The Food Show. Photo / NZME.

The hype around the chocolate milk soon gained media attention. There was talk of security guards being posted to prevent milk-related aggression - some believed they were paid for by Lewis Road Creamery and were part of a marketing master plan.

Jason Witehira, operator of New World, Freeman's Bay and one of Cullinane's earliest supporters, says the talk of security guards being hired is a myth.

"It never happened. There were just staff members there making sure that people didn't take more than they should."

Witehira says that talk of deliberately held back supply is also not true; that in early days, crowds would gather around the delivery time (9am) to get their hands on the precious commodity.

"We would have deliveries six days a week, and in early days we would sell out by 10am. It's marketing gold; and there's been hardly any money spent on it."

Witehira says that rationing of milk has been necessary, as some fans would buy the whole lot at once. "We now have a limit of two each per customer," he says. "But it's cooling down now. We still sell out every day, but not until about 1pm."

Although the popularity of the product is genuine, overall strategy around all Lewis Road Creamery products is textbook. Public relations expert Deborah Pead says that there are some key rules behind any successful campaign and all are in place here.

"The most effective campaigns are those where you have succeeded in creating a demand and influenced consumer purchasing. It's about making that emotional connection that drives the consumer seeks out your product and reach out and take it off the shelf."

She says there were a number of reasons why Lewis Road Creamy chocolate milk has been so popular. "The collaboration of two desirable boutique New Zealand brands that both have a loyal following - so it appealed to the fans of each brand and it appealed to the Kiwi origin. Both brands have successfully tapped into the trend of artisan products," she says.

"I'm told the chocolate milk is delicious so it delivered on the taste factor. And the design is simply gorgeous. You'd proudly display that bottle."

The sea of orange T-shirts on display at cricket grounds throughout the country last summer was a testament to the success of another New Zealand marketing campaign.
The Tui Catch a Million campaign offered $100,000 over 12 one-day matches to people wearing Tui T-shirts who caught a ball one handed; and it generated a huge amount of exposure for the brand.

Read more:
*Wendyl wants to know: Lewis Road Creamery Fresh Chocolate Milk $3.69 per 300ml

*Lewis Road choc milk a hot commodity
*Small business: Adapt or die - Peter Cullinane

Simon Smith from DB says that the campaign's success was quantifiable.

They sold out of the 2500 T-shirts on sale at the grounds, and around 60,000 were given away. "The T-shirts were given away free when people bought $30 of Tui beer," says Smith. "Otherwise people could buy them for $30."

Dominion Breweries measured the success in match attendance at games, Tui sales and media exposure.

"The campaign drove great growth, with Tui sales at their best level in two years, and match attendance rose by 54 per cent after the first catch on the January 8," says Smith.

The company says the campaign reached 120 million eyes around the world and saw an average one in five adults wearing the T-shirt to each of the matches over the series.

Only two people ended up winning the prize; Jatinder Singh and Michael Morton, both in Hamilton. Fleur Revell from Impact PR says that the exposure gained represents an excellent outcome.

"Achieving an exceptionally high level of engagement from an activation like this promotion would have put a smile on the face of any marketing professional."

Smith agrees. "Tui made a simple orange T-shirt the must-have clothing item and changed the way people around New Zealand (and the globe) watched cricket."
Back in dairy land, Cullinane is also likely smiling about the success of his campaign.

His company has gone into overdrive; production is taking place seven days a week and upwards of 22,000 litres of the chocolate milk is being produced every week.

The "foodie match made in heaven" has yielded a marketing result made in heaven, and a product that's already made its name in New Zealand cultural history.

But although there's been talk of the chocolate milk being an instant classic, supermarket man Witehira is loathe to use the term. "Classics take years to develop," he says.

"But get back to me in a few years and I'll let you know," he says.

Sometimes it works ... sometimes it doesn't


Failures


Department Store ugly campaign: The high-end store in Takapuna ruffled a few feathers with its ugly campaign that shared this online: "Are you single or in a relationship with someone ugly? Know someone who is? We need you." It was quickly pulled after resounding negative feedback.


Susan Boyle.

Susan Boyle's below-the-belt tweet: Susan Boyle's PR team was left squirming when they posted a hashtag that read #susanalbumparty. It was meant to read Susan album party, but many twitters read it rather differently.

Malaysian Airlines bucket list: Beleaguered Malaysian Airlines added insult to injury when they launched a campaign asking flyers which destinations would be on their bucket list - shortly after two of their airplanes had crashed.


Successes


New World Little Shop: The craze surrounding the miniature products reached epic proportions last year. The promotion has been relaunched this year; full sets of the miniatures are being sold for up to $300 on Trade Me.

Marmite shortage: When the Marmite factory was damaged in the Christchurch earthquakes, the lack of supply was turned into a positive marketing opportunity for the brand. "They encouraged desperate customers to stockpile supplies and made the spread even more desirable," says PR expert Fleur Revell. "It also pushed the product, usually only featured in paid TV ads, into mainstream news."

- Herald on Sunday

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