Great campaigns in marketing history: Marmite ‘Love it or hate it’

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The adage ‘ninety percent of everything is crap’ coined by Theodore Sturgeon an American science fiction author is relevant in the context of advertising where a majority of campaigns go unnoticed. Among the handful of great marketing campaigns which get noticed, recalled and loved there are even fewer number which stand the test of time. I wrote about one such campaign – ‘Live richly’ from Citi a while ago. Another brand which deserves accolades and respect is Marmite (owned by Unilever) for its ‘Love it or hate it’ campaign.

While ‘Love it or hate it’ may well feature in all-time great tag lines, it much more than a well-written tag line. The charm of some tag lines lies in word play: ‘the best 4×4 by far’ (for Land Rover), ‘Cats like Felix like Felix’ (which was used in the late 80s by Purina) or ‘Citi never sleeps’ come to mind. A brand’s positioning or philosophy can also be reflected in a tag line as we see with ‘Just Do It’ or ‘Dirt is good’ (for Persil, known as Surf in some countries). But Marmite’s brand idea and creative expressions are different – they are anchored on a product truth.

Product’s polarising nature at the core

What’s different about Marmite is that the brand’s idea and tag line is anchored on the product’s polarising nature. It’s not a lofty stand or something conveying a brand purpose. The product is a yeast extract with ‘distinctive, salty, powerful flavour and matching heady aroma’. It has both detractors and fans; so its polarising nature is smartly captured as a brand idea.

Converting a negative to a positive

In the food category, if a large number of users are put off by the taste of a product, one would expect the brand to be wary about highlighting it. But Marmite has been bold to accept that its taste is unlikely to appeal to all and decided to not shy away from highlighting it. It took the problem head on and made light of the issue.

Flexible yet consistent across variants and marketing objectives

Apart from consistency, a hallmark of Marmite has been its flexibility of usage across variants and even tactical campaigns to meet a specific marketing objectives.

Squeeze: When the squeezy variant of the brand was introduced the beautifully art directed campaign married the idea wonderfully with the product form. Public personalities or polarising habits were drawn out with the bottle, as it were to dramatise the ‘love it or hate it’ idea.

Agency: adam&eveDDB

Another observation about this much-celebrated campaign is that it could very easily have shifted focus from the product to the public figure portrayed. In today’s world where social media is a platform for outrage and polarising views on any subject or person, the brand communication could easily have tilted away from the product.

Chilli variant: when the brand introduced the chilli variant the creative expression dramatised the ‘hot, spicy’ nature without losing the core idea of polarised taste.

They also demonstrated how the strength of taste can be brought alive using a medium’s advantage as seen in the outdoor ‘stunt’ in UK.

Creativity aimed to solve a business problem

With such a powerful brand idea it must be tempting to create ad thematic ad campaigns which express it in many ways. But consumer trends and insights on their behaviour have dictated many campaigns. In 2013, the brand launched a campaign to address the issue of low frequency of use. The situation is akin to the honey category in Indi – many households are likely to have a bottle but usage occasions would be infrequent (at least prior to COVID-19). The centre piece of the ‘End Marmite Neglect’ campaign was film which spoofed animal rescue operations where ‘officers’ save neglected jars of Marmite from cupboards and send them to new homes for ‘better care’. The campaign resulted in increased saes but not before creating controversy. Several complaints were received against the ad saying it belittled the work done by animal rescue charities.

It also takes a bold client, confident of the distinct brands assets (such as the label and shape of the bottle) to have the brand barely visible in a print ad.

Extending the idea to tactical and topical ads: in 2019, a ground activation through ‘Marmy Army’.

It got the attention of Vegemite (an Australian brand) which released a print ad which poked fun at Marmite.


In response, Marmite created their own jibe with a reference to the 2018 ball tampering scandal

Brand extensions: even with new product formats from the mother brand (such as rice cakes) the idea is played out – taking the self deprecating humour route.

Which one was your favourite campaign? Do share your views.

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