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'Marketing is a superpower': Aslı Özen Turhan on her career and the new McVitie’s platform

Pladis’ UK&I chief marketing officer talks about the power of marketing in boosting business growth and the success of the new McVitie’s ‘True Originals’ campaign

By conor nichols

Earlier this year, McVitie’s and TBWA\London unveiled ‘True Originals’, a major new masterbrand platform for the biscuit brand. The aim was to reaffirm the brand’s position as the the G.O.A.T., the Elvis Presley and the Great Wall of China of the biscuit category.

The accompanying TV campaign itself featured one of the country’s most loved and respected ‘True Originals’, Sir Trevor McDonald, who narrated the spot, driving home the message that ‘There Is Only One’. The new platform has enabled the Pladis-owned brand to convey its “venerated status and deliciousness” and to set it apart from the huge number of imitations and copycats in the market.

As any Brit would admit, it is hard to deny the fact that the 180 year old McVitie’s brand is anything but a staple of UK homes. The sweet snack is embedded in the national psyche and is undeniably a ‘fabric of the nation’ brand. And Pladis and TBWA\London have championed this exact idea. Andy Jex, chief creative officer, TBWA\London, affirmed that the campaign had to engage in an emotional connection and be a “modern approach to Britishness” because the few existing ‘fabric of the nation’ brands can often feel like they live in the past. “You need to make it relevant to today,”Jex added.

So how did McVitie’s ensure that it would be recognised as an original biscuit pioneer in a modern day world filled with choice? Aslı Özen Turhan, chief marketing officer for Pladis UK&I, has held the reins of the brand’s marketing for almost two years and is attempting to remind British shoppers that McVitie’s is the only biscuit they should be dunking in their teas. We caught up with Turhan to delve into the campaign and its success and also explore her career and ambitions for the future.

Creative Salon: How did you get into marketing and what do you enjoy most about it?

Aslı Özen Turhan: I studied Management at university which involved courses in areas including finance, HR and operations. Marketing was my favourite as I discovered that winning businesses are those that put consumers first and that marketers are the custodians of brands in an organisation.

What I enjoy most about marketing is being responsible for leading the growth agenda of the business. It feels like a superpower! And needs a good blend of science and art. It is a science because it needs a good level of commercial understanding along with an understanding of drivers of growth. And it is an art because it needs a good level of creativity and innovation in everything we do! If I could use a single word for the role of marketing, I would call it “maestro” – facilitating coordination and collaboration with internal and external partners to lead a broader strategic effort that delivers growth of a business and relevance of brands.

CS: Given your vast experience in marketing and the time you have spent in Turkey, what made you make the move to the UK?

Turhan: The power of brands! What can be more exciting for a marketeer than managing a brand with over 180-years of heritage, which has been the Nation’s favourite for decades in a country where biscuits as a category is such an important part of the culture! All of those mean opportunities for growth and growth is what I am passionate about! So it did not take me long to decide to move to the UK when this opportunity arose.

CS: Tell us about the aims of your recent campaign. What do you hope to achieve by focusing on humour and positioning McVitie's as an original pioneer in the biscuit category and a 'fabric of the nation'? What insights from your agency partner TBWA led you to this campaign?

Turhan: McVitie’s has been making and baking the nation’s favourite biscuits for over 180 years. It’s a store-cupboard staple brand that has pioneered biscuits which have become an ingrained part of the nation’s routine, but ‘copycat’ products are popping up everywhere. The True Originals campaign platform was born out of a need to remind shoppers of why McVitie’s is worth sticking to – showing them not just that McVitie’s biscuits have been there for them throughout cherished memories and moments of connection over time, but also reminding them of the signature great taste, quality and value synonymous with the brand.

Biscuits are a fun category with huge emotional connection – so it was important for us to develop creative work that was in tune with that, rather than being too rational. We also wanted it to contain elements of nostalgia but also feel very modern, hence the dynamic creative style and choice of music track from Little Simz. And with biscuits being purchased by almost every household in the UK, it was essential for us that the different vignettes in the film had a broad appeal across all age groups.

McVitie’s is over 180 years old and one could argue the biscuit is the 'definitive' British biscuit brand. In that context how do you continue to innovate as a brand? What are your ambitions and how will your work and role contribute to those ambitions?

Turhan: McVitie’s is the leader of one of the most loved categories in the UK and it is our responsibility to keep the category and our brands relevant for our consumers. Innovation is an important driver of this and has a strategic role in our growth ambition. We need to keep and excite our existing consumer base, while bringing new consumers into the brand. Innovating for unmet consumer needs and leading the trends in biscuits are two of our principles when it comes to innovation. One example is McVitie’s White Chocolate Digestives which we launched this year and has been a huge success. It reached over £5m RSV in less than 6 months! The objective was to bring new, younger consumers into the McVitie’s brand and we knew that white chocolate as a proposition has more relevance with younger groups. With the right product development process and great execution, we reached 6 per cent penetration in such a short period of time, 60 per cent of which was with people who had not bought any of McVitie’s chocolate digestive products in the previous 40 weeks!

When it comes to innovation marketing’s role is again about getting the strategic ambition right, defining what success looks like, building the right consumer experience to feed into the whole process and delivering a best-in-class execution plan to bring it into life.

CS: How does your strategy consider rival snack and biscuit brands?

Turhan: We value competition, it keeps us awake as a leader in anything we do.

CS: How is the 'There is only one' campaign performing in the sector?

Turhan: We are very happy with the performance so far and actually it is not a surprise at all. “There is Only One” has been the best testing ad in our brand history and according to Kantar it performed in the top 2 per cent of all ads they have tested in the UK. Both long term and short-term sales impact were expected to be strong. It’s early days, but I can share that since launching the campaign we have reached the highest four weeks penetration and highest market share since the start of 2023 (Source: Kantar). Overall, 92 per cent of consumer sentiments are positive or neutral, all of which proving that we are on the right track.

CS: What advice would you have for marketers to get the best out of their agency partners?

Turhan: Any creative process needs a great level of collaboration between agency and brand teams. Great work is delivered when both sides are passionate about the brand and believe in putting strong consumer insight at the centre of any collaborative work. The creative process will not always be a straightforward one, especially if you want to build a long-term brand platform as in the case of True Originals. But we and our agency partners had the belief and ambition to deliver best-in-class work for our heritage brand, so this kept us on track.

We always acknowledged that the creative process needs a significant investment in terms of time and mental capacity on both sides and we were very committed to it. We do a lot of consumer research to help inform our creative process until we lock the ideas in and this has been our guidance all the way along. Once aligned on the idea, excellence in execution has been our mutual ambition and we paid attention to every detail including director choice, music, talent etc. Some of those might look like too much detail for some, but I can clearly see the impact of each and every element on the final work we delivered. Persistence and collaboration are key to success!

What advice would you give to someone thinking of getting a job in marketing?

Turhan: A marketeers’ role is all about driving growth of a business and growth is the oxygen of any organization. So having the hunger for growth is the number one criteria for anyone I would recruit in marketing roles. Beyond this, you need to have a passion for understanding human behaviour and nicely mix it with data and insights to deliver creative solutions to any business issue to become a successful marketeer.


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