Switching your marketing strategy to bolster the at-risk sales of one of the category’s more expensive cream cheese brands won’t sway consumers to part with their cash in a cost of living crisis, right?

Well, apparently it will and has. 

In a year when most fmcg household brands struggled to see real sales growth, Mondelez-owned Philadelphia apparently discovered the secret ingredient for increased volumes – emotion.

Working with Ogilvy, the international fmcg giant tapped into the darker art of behavioural science to boost Philadelphia sales by 20% last year through its Simply Better campaign. Launched February 2023, the results were a surprise, Kirsten McPherson, marketing director Mondelez International admitted to Ogilvy CEO Fiona Gordon at LIVE by The Grocer x Retail Week today.

Philadelphia marketing campaign for growth

The cost of living crisis could have been a bump in the road for the 150-year-old cream cheese brand if it continued to rely on its then marketing strategy, which focused on functionality, explained McPherson.

“We realised our historic marketing programmes were functional and complex, [and talked about] adding the product to pasta or making cheesecake with it,” she said. “But consumers had lost bandwidth due to [cost of living] anxiety and stress.” 

Research with Ogilvy showed emotional, not functional, messaging would better resonate with consumers who were looking for small moments of respite in a time of crisis. “We looked for moments where you share Phili (or Philly?) with someone else, to make things better.”

In a short-term crisis, people tend to seek comfort, explained Gordon. “In the medium-term it’s empathy and in the long-term you go into this less bandwidth [stage] and can’t consume information in the way you do when you’re not stressed,” which causes consumers to make impulsive decisions.

The research between Ogilvy and Mondelez helped the businesses to understand what key messages consumers could absorb in these times. 

Cream cheese brands grew in 2023

It was decided to target ’moments’ in the day by using relatable messaging such as “the hug you didn’t know you needed”. The brand also tapped into nostalgia by doing things like changing the names on street signs to things like ‘Bread Lane’ in its advertising to further drive the brand home in consumers’ minds and emotions. 

The results, according to McPherson, were impressive, with Philadelphia growing sales by 20%. “As an established brand and category leader, to grow 20% is an amazing result and using that psychology really worked for us,” she said. Not only that, it bumped £20m on to the wider category, added McPherson.

Don’t believe it? The Grocer’s Top Products Report 2023 showed cheese added £423.1m of growth last year. Own label grew too, by 20%, but still remained smaller. In cream cheese, Philadelphia was the third-biggest brand in the category, showing 16.1% value growth. Familiar spreadable brands like Laughing Cow, Primula and Boursin also topped up values.

So, as consumers continue to feel the chill from the cost of living crisis, using relatable emotion could prove positive for the bottom line.