Reintroducing The Illy Brand You Already Know

You’ve seen the Illy brand before. You just may not know it. Those lower-case cursive letters sitting within a red square are recognizable even to casual coffee shoppers, even if you don’t remember ever drinking it.

You’ve probably seen it most often in hotel rooms, since much of the brand’s presence, especially in the U.S., is through on-premise partnerships. But with a new and very stylish campaign titled “Welcome on the Road to Happiness,” Illy is going directly to consumers with a high concept branding effort aimed at the super-premium coffee buyer.

Michele Waits, Illy’s North American vice president of marketing and commercial support, explains how an 80-year-old brand plans to remind us that we already know it. You can listen to the entire podcast here.



BTW: Fans of Michael Bay’s (or Marvel films) signature spinning camera move will want to click the embedded Illy video ad below. The continental brand actually classes up and domesticates a cheesy Hollywood visual trope by lending it some meaning.

MediaPost: What is the main marketing challenge in this category?

Michele Waits: I think the saturation of the category is definitely one of the biggest challenges. It is really important to have a story and for us to have a point of difference and a reason for being.

We have close to 80% brand awareness, but we have very, very low awareness of exactly who we are. That is the opportunity. And we sit in the fastest-growing part of the category right now, which is super premium.

Super premium definitely benefited from the idea that a lot of people couldn't enjoy coffee away from home. So we feel like the time is right. We believe that the biggest challenge, and the opportunity for us, is to really tell our story in a compelling way to the U.S. consumer.

MP: Explain the roots and research behind this “Welcome on the Road to Happiness” campaign brand building. 

Waits: We noticed during the pandemic that the definition of happiness changed a bit. It wasn't just a fleeting moment anymore. It had a little bit more gravitas, and happiness wasn't just for individuals. It had more of a collective sense about it. It had to have a sense of purpose, and we felt like that evolution of happiness was very much consistent with who we are as a brand.

Our tagline is “Live happily,” so that was already something we had established. We shifted, a little bit, the definition of that and how we expressed it. So when you say, “welcome on the road to happiness,” it's intentional because we feel like it's something that continues to move. You can see in the campaign that we have a circular visual icon, and that's there to really represent the fact that it's for everybody. 

MP: Tell us a little bit about that vision of what that Illy brand is. It is a logo that's very familiar, but I don't remember ever having a cup of it. 

Waits: We sometimes talk about it as the best-kept secret in CPG. So there are three pillars that the brand stands on, and the first one is good, second is goodness, and the third is beauty. And good is very intentional to talk about our quality.

And the quality comes all the way, starting from the quality of the beans that we source. We very carefully blend and roast them to have the same consistent elite taste. We really believe that the singular, simple, unique blend is the hallmark of our flavor. So good encompasses that philosophy, as well as our quality. 

Goodness is really about ethics and sustainability. We've always been a company that seeks to do business in an ethical way. And sustainability, I think, is something that is very important to the whole coffee category. We have always, at least for the past 30 years, worked with farmers in a direct relationship.  

And then beauty is our third pillar. And beauty is really about trying to marry aesthetics and bring that into the coffee experience to make it really the ultimate experience.

MP: So I want to talk about that customer journey to explore how you expect to capture, let's say, a coffee fan like me.

Waits: Well, we always talk about our marketing architecture as a funnel. And I think one of our realizations as we approach this campaign is that if you don't fill the upper part of the funnel, you can do a lot of work at the bottom in conversion, in offers at that stage.

That might sound really obvious, but that became a really big focus of this campaign -- to start filling that funnel with the stories about Illy. So when people then get to experience it on premise at, a JW Marriott for example, or they go to the grocery store, they already have a sense for who we are, and then hopefully other things in the store can then do their work to get you over the hump and to choose us instead of someone else.

MP: As we all know, achieving that scale in a very fractured environment is a challenge for everybody now. How are you allocating your media investment for this?  

Waits: We have a handful of markets where we are focusing our marketing but also our development efforts. One of our focus markets this year is New York, and in that way we're able to make the most out of our investment and really focus it on a certain area. And we make sure that we're filling the upper funnel, but we're really moving all of the marketing from the top to the bottom and sort of saturating the market across all of our channels. That is our approach.

The media will be the first part of this campaign. It’s going to be primarily a digital campaign for upper funnel in social media. You will see it in places like YouTube.

We will, of course, go to programmatic. We will go to Spotify and Hulu, for example. You will start to see the campaign there in July and August, and then we will start to build that presence in September and October with out-of-home.

We're expecting to see a little bit more footfall, especially in New York, in September and October. Our objective was to try to surround the consumer and to hit them at multiple touch points so that we can break through. And then we're pulling the thread into our stores in our CPG channel with displays and with some at-shelf POS and some offers that are timed specifically to drive conversion.

MP: You really wanted to dig into a particular region rather than go nationwide? I gather you're looking for learnings here in this market in order to then take those lessons to other regions. 


MP: What do you have in place on the measurement side, since measurement is at least as challenging as media planning?  

Waits: That is so true -- the challenge in measurement. Because a majority of our media spend is digital, when you have the ability to click to something, that gives you some great learnings and some great tangible metrics. In the cases where it's not clickable, we are looking into some marketing analysis to buy that information so that we can see that impact in those unmeasured channels.

And so, basically, for each channel and for each program we're setting up unique KPIs we will watch very carefully. In the digital sphere, we will also weekly look at how our metrics are performing, and we will shift money and time over to those executions that are performing the best, and continuously sort of fine-tune our mix in digital.

MP: You have a substantially higher share of sales coming from ecommerce than most legacy CPGs I speak with. How did that happen?

Waits: I think part of that is how we’ve built our business in the U.S., where our on-premise business is still our biggest business. And so we're in the early stages of really trying to grow our presence in our footprint, and also trying to figure out the right places to be within CPG. Our -commerce business has not only grown significantly during the pandemic, but it's also an award winning ecommerce website.

We have no barriers in terms of what we can offer, our whole portfolio is on the ecommerce site, and so we have really established, I think, a very strong and still growing business in that space.

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