General Mills’ cereal brand Nature Valley embraced UK tennis at just the right time according to its marketing head, Arjoon Bose, who said the tie-up has delivered a 20% year-on-year increase in sales.
Nature Valley, and sister brand Häagen-Dazs, were both quick to tie themselves to the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) in 2016 after Andy Murray’s landmark 2015 Davis Cup win. And more recently the former brand inked a partnership with British women's number one Johanna Konta.
Bose, the marketing head for the snacking division of General Mills across Northern Europe, claimed that for Nature Valley the partnership not only drove a sales uplift of 20% year-on-year but the link to stars like Konta has also translated into total category growth, contributing to a 70% total segment growth in the functional health category.
"We've nearly reached 5% market penetration after one year associated with tennis. Tennis was our single [biggest] brand partnership that we champion across the board," he said.
Before the tennis partnership, the brand was largely dependent on international campaigns linked to sports like skiing and golf. These tie-ups were not entirely effective in the UK market leading the brand to invest in more bespoke activity.
“Back in 2015 we were looking to launch our gluten-free, protein bars and were looking for a meaningful sponsorship that would let us put product at the center. In the US we have had a long-chequered history with golf and skiing, which didn’t resonate in the UK. We wanted a sport with scale that was intergenerational and celebrated the vitality of the outdoors," said Bose.
“The timing for us was almost perfect. We looked at all of the stats and found out there has never been a better time to be associated with British tennis.”
Aside from Murray's fame, the food giant's main attractionwas universal appeal of the game. According to the LTA, it’s the UK’s second most followed sporting activity and has an even split between men and women tuning in.
But "this wasn’t about the big glamourous grass court events," continued Bose.
Instead of going up against historic sponsors like Robinsons, Bose said it recognised early that it would get the most value out of the deal by working with the LTA on its grassroots tennis programmes like the Great British Tennis Weekend or Tennis Field Days.
The LTA logo was emblazoned over Nature Valley goods and takes pride of place during the LTA’s events. In the off-season, the brand leant upon experiential events to keep the buzz around tennis.
A year into the campaign, it decided to tie with Konta, a gamble that paid off after the 26-year-old delivered her most successful ever season, reaching the last four at Wimbledon and was ranked the fourth best player in her category for a time.
Recently it took over Westfield shopping centre to host a match between Konta and legend Pat Cash in a 'Battle of the Sexes' grudge match. The activity also tied into the newly released movie, Battle of the Sexes, a retelling of the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs which Bose said helped underline the brand’s inclusivity stance through tennis.
“We work entirely with [our agency] Space to conceptualise the events with the experiential impact and create snackable content. With them we shared one of the greatest tennis stories ever told," he added.
Bose said such drives have transformed Nature Valley to become the number one protein bar in the category, driving 75% growth in the aftermath of the campaign launch.
On how much tennis activity factors into the overall marketing activity at Nature Valley, Bose said: “Tennis is the focus of our campaign, it is one build brand equity and locomotive for us to drive our message forward.
Over the last two years, as well as seeing a sizeable ROI through off-and-on the pitch events, Bose concluded that the brand was “contributing to tennis Renaissance” in the UK after years of decline in participation and court bookings.
According to the LTA, 131,019 more people played tennis in June 2017 than in June 2016, a rise that coincided somewhat predictably with Wimbledon and a trend that Nature Valley will hope holds into 2018.