Call for Hovis banking favors bread brand

by Morton Sosland
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While there’s no arguing that the only worthy measure of how consumer product marketing works reflects sales and profitability, grain-based foods in America is well aware of outcomes that are different, yet nearly as positive. Marketing programs that counter negative consumer views of products like bread have attracted attention in an environment where attacks all too often stem from misinterpreting research or embracing erroneous beliefs as to what accounts for good nutrition. Funding provided by both individual companies and the industry at large went into trying to dissuade consumers from embracing the turn-of-the-century Atkins assault on carbohydrates. This succeeded due to the passage of time as well as the reawakening of bread-eating desires, which combined eventually to win the day. It is the rare marketing campaign for bread that deserves credit for having an enduring impact on generations of consumers. For all these reasons, a bread promotion campaign in England in behalf of a single brand merits attention.

Just how successful an advertising program has been in support of the Hovis bread brand is not just reflected in the sales success of its owners, Ranks Hovis McDougall, a division of Premier Foods P.L.C. The brand has captured 20 per cent annual sales gains. Equally striking is the way the recent advertising has propelled the Hovis name into the English vocabulary as reflected in the debate under way in the U.K. about what is widely being called “Hovis banking.” The Hovis name has appeared on bread in the United Kingdom for more than a century, but its entry into everyday usage to describe a sort of financial institution is brand new. This results largely from a television commercial that also was selected by the British public as “Advert of the Decade.”

The commercial in question, named “Go on Lad,” features a young boy carrying a loaf of Hovis bread through the 100 years-plus that the brand has been in use. He walks and runs with the loaf in his arms through scenes like women suffragettes seeking the right to vote, soldiers marching in World War I, labor strife in the 1930s, bomb damage in World War II, sporting events and modern building booms. In effect, the commercial documents British history during the brand’s life. Thus, explains a columnist in the Financial Times, “The suggestion that we might partially turn back the clock has been described as a call for ‘Hovis banking,’ referring to an advertisement that plays on nostalgia.”

This columnist adds, “The commercial succeeds because we believe the bread our grandparents ate, before innovations in technology and marketing, was nicer and more wholesome.” He adds that increasing numbers of people believe the same may be true of Britain’s troubled banking where major companies have failed and others have serious problems.

For Hovis to achieve this word-of-mouth approval is a remarkable achievement. After all, this is a bread brand that has been in use since 1890 when a young London student won a prize of £25 by proposing the name in a contest conducted by the milling company that owned a patent flour rich in wheat germ. He originated the word from the Latin phrase, hominis vis, meaning “the strength of man.” The company changed its name to the Hovis Bread Flour Company in 1898 and later became part of RHM.

Of course, the English bread market is different from America’s. Yet, the importance of bread as a basic food is meaningful in both nations, and the success of Hovis with emphasizing its consistent quality should not be disregarded. An expanding number of financial commentators in England, affected by the “Hovis banking” concept, have begun to agree that the Hovis emphasis on its history as a favored loaf “is true in banking as in baking.” Similarly, this approach emphasizing a brand “as good today as it’s always been,” might be as true in American baking as it is in England.

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