Guest article

Sweetening the pill - preparing for a sugar tax extension

By Neil Davidson, managing director of HeyHuman

- Last updated on GMT

Confectionery brands can outlive sugar regulation, but must act now, says HeyHuman, a brand agency that has worked with Mondelēz. ©GettyImages/BlindTurtle
Confectionery brands can outlive sugar regulation, but must act now, says HeyHuman, a brand agency that has worked with Mondelēz. ©GettyImages/BlindTurtle

Related tags: Sugar, Tax, Chocolate, Uk, Marketing, sugar tax

Inaction is not an option for confectionery brands if they want to survive in an age of increased regulation on sugared products, writes Neil Davidson, managing director of brand agency HeyHuman.

With the UK government’s sugar levy due to come into effect for its beverage makers in April, lobbyists are now looking for the next sugar demon – confectionery.

The UK group, Action on Sugar, has just called for​ the government to slap a 20% tax on candy and ban price promotions on sharing bags. 

It’s the kind of threat that is being seen around the world as sugar is linked to health issues such as obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.

Neil Davidson
Neil Davidson is the managing director of HeyHuman, which launched in 2014. It has worked with brands such as Oreo, Guiness, Peroni, belVita and Evian.

Demands for curbs on promotion and the introduction of taxes are now the weapons of choice of anti-sugar groups. And governments are responding – sugar taxes have been introduced in many countries already.

Preparing dark marketing strategies

Inaction is not an option if brands want to survive and thrive. The direction of travel is clear when it comes to restriction and regulation – it is increasing and coming more quickly.

Rather than waiting to become victims, brands should be preparing dark marketing strategies that will prepare their products if the light of advertising is switched off.

A key area to assess is a brand’s main assets. When markets go dark and advertising ceases to be an option, the brands that do best are those that have established themselves firmly in the consumer’s mind. How many Brits of a certain age need reminding what a Mars a day does?

Branding to outlive regulations

It doesn’t have to be an ad slogan. Brands’ most effective communicators are often hiding in plain sight – Reese’s orange and brown; the M&M characters; the Skittles’ rainbow.

These assets have a half-life that can outlive regulation and can keep a brand alive in the consumer’s mind years after its advertising has been silenced. Brands need to assess which assets have greatest cut through and over-invest in them rather than more transient campaigns.

Trade relationships will become even more important, so now is the time to demonstrate your commitment to the sector. In-store activity to drive footfall for retailers and investing in data can prove a brand’s usefulness.

When it comes to new product development, brands need to invest now, or not at all. Products need at least three years to become embedded in the brand portfolio. Limited edition strategies that demonstrate a brand’s vigor can also be important to engage with consumers.

The worst may never happen, but brands can’t simply make that assumption. Preparing for the worst is like an insurance policy that you hope you’ll never need, but you’re covered if the worst happens.

Related topics: Views, Sugar and health, Confectionery, Policy

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