Food For Thought: How Nestle Turned Sustenance Into Media, Made The Meal The Message

A key objective of any global marketer is to “own” -- or become the brand most universally associated with -- the primary benefit of the category it competes in. But what do you do when your category is as universal as food? “Once you get past the benefit of ‘it stops making me hungry,’ you need to find another way to connect with consumers,” says Rishad Tobaccowala, the chief strategy & innovation officer at Publicis’ Vivaki.

While visiting his homeland of India recently, Tobaccowala stumbled across just such a campaign, and it tugged so much on his own heartstrings that he was moved to write about it on his personal blog, even though the campaign was created by a rival agency, Interpublic's McCann-Erickson India, though Publicis’ Zenith Optimedia, in conjunction with WPP's Maxus, played an important role in helping to distribute it via a combination of paid and social media executions.

The real point of the campaign was not the unusual collaboration of the agencies involved, per se -- it was the core message that the client Nestle developed to connect with its consumers: That food is the way people share their love with each other.

To do that, Nestle focused on a medium for delivering food, so-called Dabbawalas, who are the couriers who deliver hot meals from home to family members toiling at work -- usually by bicycle and often over long distances and through inclement conditions, even monsoons. To many Indian families, they are the unsung heroes connecting their home-cooked meals with their loved ones when they are away from home.

Another unusual thing about the campaign is the length of the spot McCann created to tell the story. At three minutes and 37 seconds, it is more of a mini documentary than a commercial, but the power of the message proved that brevity isn't always the best solution for attention-starved consumers -- not when your message is sustenance. To date, the campaign video has generated more than 7.2 million views on YouTube, making it one of the highest ever for a consumer food brand in the nation. It has also gone viral globally, attracting an audience worldwide that likely is unfamiliar with the role Dabawallas play in Indian society, but who can connect with the underlying message of the importance of preparing and sharing food with the people you love.

To amplify that message, Nestle and its agencies leveraged a campaign on Twitter utilizing a #ShareYourGoodness hashtag so consumers could share conversations around their own food-sharing experiences.

But for Tobaccowala, the real power of the campaign is the simplicity and fundamental nature of its message. “It is the idea that food is a way we connect with each other,” he says, adding, “Parents show their love to their children by cooking and sharing food. It's a fundamental way that people express their love for each other.”

In effect, he says, food has become the new “fireplace,” but instead of gathering around a hearth or even a dinner table, a highly mobile population must now share that experience on-the-go, and frequently away from the people they would otherwise want to share it with. That, he says, is why the Dabbawalla campaign connects with so many people -- even those unfamiliar with that part of Indian culture.

“Nestlé’s promise is ‘Good Food, Good Life’ and we understand the roles that food can play in the lives of people,” explains Chandrasekar Radhakrishnan, head of communications and a member of the team that created the campaign for Nestlé India.

“The insight for the #ShareYourGoodness campaign emerged from our research and studies on consumption behavior in India, which indicated that food is often more than nutrition and the pleasure of consumption,” he continues. “The moments of preparing, serving and eating together is the time when everyone shares experiences and stories that create an easy flow of values, beliefs, and ideas  and help everyone  learn of joy and pain. We understand this value of food as the nexus to connect and have used the insight  in our corporate film to show how it can obviate all previous barriers and hierarchies.”

While the campaign was designed explicitly for the Indian marketplace, Radhakrishnan says it went global because of the universal theme of its underlying message, as well as the digital nature of the media it used to spread it.

“The campaign has been conceptualized and developed for India, but human emotions are universal and simple messages touch people across the globe,” he explains. “It is natural therefore that  people across the globe are appreciating the simplicity of the message, the campaign content and the storytelling.”

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3 comments about "Food For Thought: How Nestle Turned Sustenance Into Media, Made The Meal The Message".
  1. david michael rich from George P. Johnson Experience Marketing , June 8, 2014 at 11:53 a.m.
    A great example reminding us all that at the heart of powerful marketing is almost always an idea that is born of an essential human truth. Human truth first, brand truth and product truth second and third. Our challenge though is to think through how are we as an industry elevating our methods of development to leverage this principle more reliably? And how are we pushing academia to understand and teach this and other key principles?
  2. Neil Mahoney from Mahoney/Marketing , June 8, 2014 at 2:55 p.m.
    The really amazing thing is that Nestlé's truly original and powerful message has been under our noses all this time -- just like all great truths. Neil Mahoney
  3. Neil Mahoney from Mahoney/Marketing , June 9, 2014 at 12:07 p.m.
    I retract what I said earlier. Bemember "Nothin' says lovin' like something from the oven?"