Why this CMO compares marketing strategy to lasagna

San Remo marketing leader shares the details of its latest brand campaign and its diverse 2019 marketing strategy

Marketing pasta to consumers is like making a lasagne: There so many layers to it, you have to invest in all of them to unlock growth.

That at least is the opinion of San Remo chief marketing officer, Erik de Roos, who caught up with CMO this week to talk about the recent debut of the home-grown company’s latest brand building campaign, as well as the multi-pronged marketing strategy he’s devised in order to lift frequency of pasta consumption in Australian households.

Last month, San Remo launched a new long-form commercial celebrating family as the secret ingredient to any great meal. The work, which was developed by Black Sheep Advertising and projected by Kojo, was led by a 1 minute 40 second ad for cinemas, and supported by a 60-second TVC cut premiered just before Christmas across selected national networks and slots. Some small digital and social media was also used.

De Roos said there were a couple of key reasons for launching the emotive brand effort. The first was San Remo’s position as Australia’s leading pasta brand and a family-owned business, a rare commercial position. The company has been operating as a family-owned business for 80 years and taps into these family values to underpin its brand approach.

“Secondly, there’s a misconception that dry pasta is a low involvement category. While clearly it’s not high, our research shows there is medium involvement, and consumers rate brand as the most important thing when shopping for pasta,” de Roos told CMO. “As a result, brand still has a big role to play.

“San Remo has been in the marketplace for a long time, and has very high brand awareness. Brand building is something we need to keep doing and investing in. You can’t rest on your laurels. We are category leaders and we need to drive the category.”

At the same time, de Roos said he and the team recognised that with the penetration of pasta so high nationally, it’s hard to make sizeable shifts in volume or consumer behaviour.

“I describe our marketing strategy as like making a lasagne; there are many layers to it. The penetration of pasta is so high. There isn’t one thing that unlocks all growth,” de Roos said. “Ninety per cent of Australian households are already eating pasta once per month, and many once per week. So there are lots of levers we will push to unlock growth in volume and value.”  

In November, one of these was the debut of a range of pulse-based pasta product, which saw San Remo awarded product of the year in the Consumer Survey of Product Innovation. “Pulse Pasta is a new product, which presents a new option for consumers to eat past and a completely new way to enjoy pasta,” de Roos said.

De Roos also pointed to a strong pipeline of product innovation ahead in 2019, which will help drive frequency of usage.

“Everything we do is then underpinned by the brand platform of family. It’s our brand truth,” he continued. “We are a family-owned business, and we can really own that. We have these innovations, we do lead the category, but we want to make sure everyone in the family is getting involved and eating pasta. Which in Italian families, is true.  

“I’m a bit of a purist marketer – I believe in keeping things simple, trying to stay true to who you are as a brand. What we do is try to tell a story that has a universal human insight but that’s so closely aligned to the business and brand.”  

It’s the family-owned business heritage de Roos said also made it easier to get buy-in for a brand-led campaign even when San Remo is so dominant in market.

“Any marketer struggles to justify investment into brand building as it’s so intangible. I’m fortunate that I’m dealing with the family and trying to tell that story around family. Rather than rational, this was a more emotional play,” he said. “We do have such high brand awareness, which was an advantage, so there were no specific deadlines to hit.”

Despite increased media fragmentation and shortened attention spans, this style of longform storytelling can still resonate with audiences, de Roos argued.

“If you’re going to do a brand ad that seeks to lift emotion, you need time to do that. Rarely can you do that in 15 seconds. You need to do something that’s longer. For me, it was getting the story right then focus contextually on most relevant environments from a media perspective,” he said. “It’s hitting the right audience at the right time with the right content.

This saw San Remo target advertising to the launch of the Mary Poppins Returns movie on 1 January.

“It was a perfect fit. We know the audience it was going to attract, and cinema enabled us to put the full version of the ad out there and get it front of a captive audience that was in the right mindset to receive our messaging. It played to the emotional card,” de Roos said.

Of course, emotional brand campaigning is not only piece of San Remo’s marketing strategy. De Roos flagged plans for further initiatives this year centring more on the rational side of pasta consumption.

“So we’re covering both bases. This year, we’ll have different executions but again underpinned by family,” he explained. “You will see more media spend in 2019, but there’s no obvious connection in the two campaigns. A big focus of this upcoming campaign is reach and frequency driving.

“The messaging all aligns with that frequency usage increase. With more choice than ever, we’re looking to encourage people to look for pasta in their supermarket and in their cupboards more frequently.”  

Another prong to the company’s marketing strategy is influencers, which San Remo recently tapped into in order to promote its product award. Brand ambassadors, meanwhile, tend to fit into two camps: Sporting professionals that connect to the nutritional benefits of pasta, such as Anna Meares and Gabby Simpson; and chefs and industry ambassadors who showcase the importance of quality pasta.

“That drives new content, inspiration, reinforces the notion of quality pasta,” de Roos said. “It’s a broad mix and very high product diversity because again, there’s no silver bullet to unlock growth.

“We have to do lots of things and equally to ensure we keep pushing our category forward.”

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