The Best Ads Since Sliced Bread?

They say the best marketers zig when everyone else zags. In a world of short-term thinking, hyper-targeting, micro-influencers and activist brands, British family bakery brand Warburtons are doing some defiantly unusual things.

They make one huge campaign every couple of years, run it mostly on TV, bring in A-list celebrities and tell gently comic stories around them. It’s all designed to appeal to as broad an audience as possible.

Past examples have included a Christmas ad with the Muppets and a pastiche costume drama “Pride And Breadjudice” starring Peter Kay. Their latest campaign, which began airing this week, features Robert De Niro muscling into Warburtons’ bagel business.

Warburtons themselves say they create the ads to boost “fame and talkability”. It’s a joyously populist approach to making ads – a vision of commercials as entertainment. In an era where brands scramble awkwardly to reference current popular culture – what, another Game of Thrones reference? – Warburtons uses stars and styles which have already proved their long-term appeal.

Company head Jonathan Warburton appears in every ad and obviously relishes the opportunity to appear alongside the big names. It’s rare and refreshing to find a brand which clearly enjoys marketing quite this much.

All of that wouldn’t matter if Warburtons’ ads didn’t land emotionally with consumers. But they do.

The brand’s strategy of making few ads brilliantly is rewarded with stunning scores in System1 Ad Ratings tests. 5-Stars for the Muppets ad. 5-Stars for “Pride And Breadjudice”. And while the latest De Niro ad doesn’t quite hit 5-Stars, its 4.7-Star result is still an excellent score. It also gets sky-high Spike ratings – suggesting the ad will have an immediate impact, as well as a long-term effect.

Let’s remember that only 1% of all ads on TV hit 5-Star. When your lowest Star rating is 4.7, you’re clearly doing something very right.

Is that being translated into commercial performance? Warburtons’ core product – sliced bread – is in a declining category, with Marketing Week reporting a 12% contraction in the traditional bread category over the last 5 years.

Warburtons’ all-star ads are in the service of a wider strategy – they showcase alternatives to bread like bagels, healthier bakes like their Seeded Batch, and treats like crumpets. It’s these alternatives that are helping Warburtons’ profits remain stable while they negotiate a difficult category evolution.

The Warburtons’ approach chimes with a lot of what we recommend at System1, and with what the evidence about long-term effectiveness tells us too. Broad reach media, ads with wide appeal, a close alignment of comms and innovation strategy, and delighting customers with emotional campaigns – all things we’d thoroughly endorse.

It’s an approach we wish more brands would follow. As one creative put it, “Warburtons takes baking seriously but never themselves.” And, as the Ad Ratings results show, audiences adore it.

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