Continuing with the Canary banana sector, we will see that in order to achieve our notable results, it has been decisive to start with a view of the positioning we wanted to achieve and apply a strategic communication plan that has passed through different stages, which were the following:
1945-1992: The banana, a commodity
In this stage, in order to protect the sector and compensate it for its distance from the Iberian peninsula, the only bananas that could be commercialised in Spain were those from the Canary Islands (approximately 400,000 tons).
Therefore the only marketing objective at this time was to achieve the best possible price, and as the competition was only with other fruit, the communication goal focused on presenting the banana as superior. To do this, the strategy lay in it being positioned as the fruit with most energy with commercials in which Tarzan or Mowgli, the main character of The Jungle Book appeared.
In 1992, with Spain’s entry in the European Community, the frontiers opened to bananas from Central America. For the first time the Canary banana had to compete with others.
The more expensive Canary bananas had always been the largest and the prettiest and purchasers therefore identified quality with large size and good appearance. This was logical, but could be a serious problem: the new Central American bananas were larger, prettier… and cheaper.
The sector therefore found itself in a difficult situation for which it was not prepared, and the forecasts pointed to between a 20 and 30% drop in sales, forcing the price down.
At this delicate time, the Association of Organisations of Banana Producers of the Canary Islands (Asociación de Organizaciones de Productores de Plátanos de Canarias – ASPROCAN) confided in the strategic communication plan we presented from agr! and which considered a global solution which included ideas and solutions that were not at all conventional, beyond advertising. This change marked the beginning of the second stage.
In 1992, as a marketing goal the sector asked agr! to continue selling 100% of the production, which was limited by the Common Market Organisation to 400,000 tons. An annual budget of 2.4 million Euros set up entirely by the sector was put aside to do this.
To achieve this professional challenge, our first communication goal was that consumers should be able to distinguish our bananas and then prefer them.
But how and why were they going to prefer them? The strategy we considered was to reposition them; starting by giving up the positioning of the banana as a general fruit (which also favoured the Central American banana) we started a process of differentiation using a geographical brand, “Canarias”, which we would give a competitive, distinctive positioning with respect to bananas of other origins.
After months of strategic planning, analysing the product, the market and the competition, a positioning was chosen based on two large advantages: one rational, its better flavour, and another emotional, that it was ours.
However, this positioning was faced by three problems that had to be overcome as soon as possible in order to win the battle:
1) Flavour and origin are not visible attributes and require the brand in order to communicate them. They need a labelled product and at that time the sector hardly labelled.
2) The flavour was something that consumers had never been able to appreciate, for they knew no other bananas to be able to compare.
3) Consumers identified quality with size and appearance, not with flavour.
We therefore had a threefold challenge: we had to conceive “something” to make them distinguish; something to make consumers prefer Canary bananas when they were able to compare them, which would change their beliefs about what quality was.
In seeking this “something”, we went beyond advertising: we found an idea that connected directly with consumers and answered the triple challenge that faced us. This “something” was the small marks that always appear on the skin, their “spots”.
This was a solution that turned a weakness, the small size and the appearance, into a strength. The spots became the guarantee of the origin and flavour of the Canary banana. Consumers no longer needed labelled bananas to be able to distinguish and identify the Canary origin and flavour.
We suggested a well-known prescriber to do this, one who was capable of changing beliefs. This was Karlos Arguiñano, the chef most highly respected and followed in Spain at the time.
By combining advertisements with Arguiñano in which he highlighted “the spots” and the origin with other more conceptual aspects in which we highlighted the importance of the flavour, we began to achieve our objectives.
Using this concept of “non-advertising” we began to change the attitudes and beliefs about what consumers had considered quality up to the time. We taught them to look out for the flavour, to give this more importance than the appearance and to recognise Canary Bananas from their spots.
In the first two years, the foreign bananas rapidly appeared in Spanish shops and sold 150,000 tons, but after this our strategy and creativity started to take effect and in 1995 sales of foreign bananas fell to 10,000 tons.
Encouraged by these results, we suggested going one step further and daring to make a direct comparison between the Canary and foreign banana, and in 1995 broadcast one of the first comparative commercials in Spanish advertising. Continuing with this more offensive creative strategy, we suggested something that would be decisive: the use of communication to have Central American bananas called by the name given them in their countries of origin: “banana”, to distinguish them from the Spanish “plátano”.
In 1996, the foreign fruit sold in Spain was put on sale as “bananas”, thus leaving the name of “plátano” exclusively for the Canary version of the fruit.
Thanks to this repositioning strategy, in the year 2000, 87% of shoppers were able to distinguish and preferred the Plátano de Canarias. What was most important was that all of the production continued to be sold and at a price 20% above that of the banana.
2000-2005: Market expansion
Having come this far, we found ourselves with three circumstances that made us change our perspective and expand our horizons:
1) We had achieved a large preference for the Plátano de Canarias.
2) The artificial desserts were coming in and taking market share from fruit.
3) This increased the pressure on the banana market, as the limits disappeared on banana imports and the remaining customs levies were lifted.
We therefore recommended the customer to start a third stage where the marketing goal would be to increase the market for this fruit. If we managed this, Plátanos de Canarias would be most benefited as this brand would have much more purchase preference.
To do this, our communication objective was that consumers should prefer Plátano de Canarias to artificial desserts and the rest of the fruit. In the first case the communication strategy would be to position Plátano de Canarias over artificial desserts as a truly natural product, and against the rest of the fruit as the one that gives most energy.
In this third stage, the disciplines taking the lead to increase the demand are below the line. Agr! uses practically all of them together: promotion for wholesalers, promotion and point-of-sale, marketing show in shopping centres, marketing show on beaches and in villages, direct marketing to paediatrics-nurseries, etc., digital marketing, public relations and sports marketing; without forgetting appearances in series, programs and sponsorships.
The results between 2000 and 2004 exceeded our expectations. According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, banana sales increased by 33% and the price paid by consumers 24%.
At the end of this third stage, Plátano de Canarias therefore had three large communication strategies:
• That of flavour over other bananas.
• The natural side with respect to artificial desserts.
• The energy side with respect to other fruit.
And together they created the virtuous circle of the Plátano de Canarias communication, which is able to answer the three possible competitors depending on circumstances.
In 2005 the fourth and large stage was started in which the strategies would be alternated to increase the distinction and preference over foreign bananas with others to increase consumption of bananas over the remaining fruit and artificial desserts.
For example, in 2006 and 2007, distribution tried to take advantage of the preference of most consumers of plátanos, by calling the banana of the “Central American plátano” and by importing small bananas. To solve this, we resorted to the strategy of flavour and the creativity with a slight tone of humour, where strange “platanormal phenomena” confused consumers in the supermarket.
In 2010, our constant observation of the peninsular market and its competition helped us to detect a tendency which drove us to invest in increasing banana consumption once more. Our present form of life requires us to find food that is easy to carry and consume, but which is also healthy. What we call snacks, such as smoothies and serial bars have multiplied their sales. So we decided to take advantage of this market trend and use the characteristics of Plátanos de Canarias (easy to carry and peel) to position them as the most natural snacks.
Finally, in 2011 and 2012 the objective was once more to brake the foreign banana and the strategy was to highlight our strength: the flavour, and striving to give it the necessary value. We showed this in an emotional commercial where a Canary Island farmer shows his grandchildren that anything that is worth achieving in this life is difficult to get.
From 1992 to 2012 we have built a strategic, coherent sequence of communication because we had a clear view of the brand. As a result, on the one hand we have made ASPROCAN one of the most awarded advertisers for the creativity and effectiveness of their campaigns, but above all we have achieved a great value and preference for their brand: according to the study made by Emer GFK in 2012, almost 90% of consumers prefer Plátano de Canarias and 87.7% are prepared to pay 30 cents more per kilo.