US consumer foods group General Mills launched its new Lawn Tennis Association-endorsed Nature Valley protein bar on the day that Andy Murray crashed out of the Aegon Championships at the Queen’s Club in London. But tennis is a long-term play for the group.
General Mills has identified British tennis as a key marketing platform to increase the brand equity of its cereal bar brand Nature Valley and ice-cream brand Häagen-Dazs among UK consumers, with the sport’s popularity at a high point in the UK market thanks largely to the exploits of Murray, last year’s world number one men’s player.
The Nature Valley brand has tripled its investment in British tennis events over the last year having signed with the LTA in June 2016 as the ‘Official Snack Bar of British Tennis’ and now extending that deal until 2018. In November 2016, it signed as an Official Partner for the end-of-year ATP World Tour Finals also hosted in London.
The tripling of investment includes: 1) a revisited sponsorship deal with enhanced branding rights 2) a bigger investment in media and shopper marketing and 3) the signing of the UK women’s number one tennis player, Johanna Konta on a one-year contract as Nature Valley’s first ever UK ambassador.
General Mills stable-mate Häagen-Dazs also has a multi-year commitment to UK tennis. It signed as the 'Official Ice Cream of British Tennis' in June last year. From July 2016, Häagen-Dazs became the 'Official Ice Cream of the Wimbledon Championships' in a five-year deal, from 2016 to to 2020.
Yesterday’s launch of Nature Valley's LTA-endorsed gluten-free protein bar was the result of a vote from around 20,000 tennis fans at last year’s ATP Tour Finals where some 9,000 tennis fans on-site voted for the winning taste combination of coconut and almond.
Nature Valley’s activation around tennis, which includes pre-Wimbledon tournaments in Nottingham and Eastbourne, is part of a £1m (€1.13m/$1.26m) integrated marketing campaign this summer.
To help reach its objective of a two-per-cent increase in consumer perception of Nature Valley as the ‘brand for me’ in the UK – a metric of brand relevance – Nature Valley will run a campaign called ‘The Court is Yours’ based on the brand’s support of local park or club participation in tennis. The campaign includes an advertisement for digital platforms which will go live later this week.
Although support of grassroots participation was a goal of the outgoing LTA tournament Title Sponsor, the pension specialist Aegon, Arjoon Bose, marketing head for Häagen-Dazs and Nature Valley in the UK and Northern Europe, said that his campaign had a better chance of connecting with the public coming from a consumer-facing brand.
The majority of the £1m campaign spend however will be taken up by advertising on social platforms Facebook, Instagram and YouTube where media buys target people known to be interested in tennis.
The hospitality activation that Sports Sponsorship insider attended June 20 was primarily for the food trade press. Publicity in the trade press is important for General Mills because its shows that the company is getting behind the products it sells either in supermarket chains or wholesale through independent retailers. For the moment, the new coconut and almond protein bar will only be available in supermarkets Waitrose and Sainsbury’s, before rolling out across all major multiples later in the year.
On other days of the Aegon Championship, the hospitality will be corporate (for General Mills employees and guests) and for consumers. The PR agencies were Stormcom for the trade press and Grey London for the consumer side.
Bose did not think Nature Valley’s level of marketing activity will be affected by the current economic uncertainty in the UK, which is by far its biggest market in Europe. The brand sees an opportunity in the “mainstreamification of protein” and is more responsive to macro trends in the food world than the wider economy.
Nature Valley is worth over £42m in value sales in the UK and growing at a rate of seven per cent, ahead of the ‘healthy biscuits and bars’ category at one per cent. Nature Valley Protein is now worth over £10m in value sales and growing at 58 per cent versus the previous year.
Ireland, the other European market where Nature Valley has a strong presence, uses golf as its main marketing platform, as does the brand in the US.
Häagen-Dazs at Wimbledon
The Häagen-Dazs outdoor advertising graphics on display in the General Mills hospitality area will become familiar to Wimbledon fans over the next few weeks, since Häagen-Dazs has acquired the rights to brand Southfields underground station with tennis-themed display advertising during the championships. Southfields is the nearest metro stop to the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) and the Wimbledon Championships.
Given that branding is not allowed around the courts at Wimbledon – Häagen-Dazs will have two ice-cream parlours on site at the event – the right to brand the station is valuable and sold by the AELTC to one of its partners each year. The AELTC holds the rights to the station advertising inventory for the two weeks of the Championships.
In relation to the imagery around its Wimbledon advertising, Bose said the brand had faced a challenge to combine a dynamic image with an appetising image – the strawberry ice-cream tennis ball being the result.
In terms of increasing Nature Valley's brand presence in other countries through tennis sponsorships, Bose said that the tennis culture in France and Australia could be tapped in the same way as the UK.
Results from the dramatic day's play on June 20, where Australia’s Jordan Thompson beat Murray and compatriot Thanasi Kokkinakis beat world number six Milos Raonic, may have reinforced that view.
This article was updated on June 22 to reflect new information.