Jacob’s Cream Crackers – biscuits or bread?

Originally posted by Hugh Salmon, Jun 30 2010, 07:37 PM

I feel the time has come for me to tell my Jacob’s Cream Crackers story.
I have been inspired to do so by Rory Sutherland’s article a couple of weeks ago (‘Time adland started to understand its audience’: http://tinyurl.com/33oc2u2).
Rory reminded us that:

‘if we make decisions at the category level before we make brand decisions, simple path dependency may mean that a strong brand in a weak category may get nowhere…. Birds Eye has been a victim of (this) phenomenon. It did not matter how high the quality of individual brands of frozen food might be, middle-class housewives had stopped turning down the freezer aisle in supermarkets – rejecting a whole category.’

So it passed that I found myself on the train to Liverpool, having been told that, although we were not the agency of record, Jacob’s Biscuits had a serious factory issue with their Cream Cracker line and any solution would be gratefully received.
This was over ten years ago and even though the brand has now changed hands, I do not think it would be appropriate to reveal the precise nature of the problem. Having said that, if you go out and buy some Jacob’s Cream Crackers plus an own label version, it won’t take you long to work it out.

Anyway, I was dead excited for I knew the Jacob’s factory was the home of the Twiglet, of which I am a big fan. Suck ‘em and see! I dreamt of carting armfuls of these freshly baked treats back with me on the train to London.

In the real world, there I was seated in a rather spartan and uncomfortable meeting room, drinking machine coffee from a plastic cup. Was I offered a Twiglet? No. Was there a Twiglet in the room? No. (No products at all, in fact). Could I scent a waft of freshly baked Twiglets drifting into the room from outside? Surely I could.

Anyway, the Jacob’s Cream Crackers problem was explained to me. And yes, it was a very big problem. Not only did it threaten the survival of the brand, but possibly the factory itself – including my beloved Twiglets and other products.

So I asked to be told everything about Jacob’s Cream Crackers. What are they? How did they start? Why? When? What are the ingredients? And so on.

What emerged was a fascinating story.

In the late 19th Century, to catch a ship to America, you went to Liverpool.

For those aboard, the problem was that the bread, fresh on the day you set sail, went stale and mouldy a few days later and you couldn’t eat it. So William Beale Jacob and his brother Robert created a way of dehydrating the bread and making it into a ‘cracker’ which would last the length of the journey across the Atlantic.

Most importantly, I was told, to this day, none of the ingredients in a Jacob’s Cream Cracker are any different from yer basic loaf of bread: no e-numbers, no added ingredients, no colourings, no preservatives, ‘free from trans fat’ indeed.
We are talking cooking, not chemistry, here.

With this insight, and a twig of an idea in my brain, I returned (empty-handed and hungry) to London.
With my colleagues, we presented Jacob’s with three key insights:

1. In today’s consumer psyche ‘biscuits’ are perceived as a treat not quite as naughty as ‘sweets’ but still with those negative connotations of e-numbers, preservatives, colourings, lashings of sugar and, if you are lucky, a dollop of chocolate. Not good for you at all, but quite fun and harmless now and again.
2. Why are pure-as-you-like Jacob’s Cream Crackers shelved alongside ‘biscuits’? They are not ‘biscuits’. They are dried bread. So why not persuade your retailers to move Jacob’s Cream Crackers, over to the bread counter? After all, like bread, they are most commonly eaten with cheese or some other accompaniment.

3. And then, because the low margins in what is now a commodity product would preclude an advertising budget, why not differentiate the Jacob’s brand from the rest by re-designing the packaging to tell the fascinating and life improving, if not life saving, story of William B and Robert – a story which only Jacob’s can claim?

It all seemed pretty obvious to me. Certainly worth a go.

Do you know what the client response was?
“We have forwarded your recommendations to our International HQ and been instructed that must keep our brands with our retained international advertising agencies, so we regret that we shall be unable to proceed with your proposal”.

Crackers, or what?

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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