Putting Pot Noodle back on the boil

Post by Jon Goldstone, former UK VP of marketing for Unilever, now brandgym Managing Partner, Global

At the recent Marketing Society Effectiveness awards I was proud to see some of my old team from Unilever win the Brand Rejuvenation award for Pot Noodle. Sales of the brand have topped £100m for the first time, both volume and value are in healthy growth, with the main growth driver penetration gains. This has delivered an impressive ROI on a relatively modest £2.5m marketing investment. And all the signs are of a brand positioned for a long-period of healthy growth.

Below I look at the rejuvenation challenge we faced on Pot Noodle, and some of the learning from the relaunch.

The challenge

Pot Noodle is an instant noodle brand famous for being quick student food and having a track-record of wonderfully irreverent and effective advertising. The problem for Pot Noodle was that it was stuck in the 1990s, the perfect quick meal for those who were too lazy to cook a proper meal. The previous major campaign in 2011 had the tagline “Why try harder?”, and showed a transvestite footballers’ wife, living a lazy life of leisure in his/her mansion! Back in the laid back 2000’s era of ‘Nevermind’ and ‘Whatever’, this felt pretty cutting edge. In today’s era of student loans and start-ups, less so. Culture had moved on. Pot Noodle hadn’t.

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The re-launch

The Pot Noodle re-launch was about brand rejuvenation, not re-invention. Much has stayed the same, including the product, the pack and the price. However, the proposition has performed a flip that makes the brand feel fresh again. Whereas the promise of Pot Noodle was “quick and easy, perfect for the laziest student” it is now “quick and easy, perfect for the busiest and most ambitious student”.

This new promise was summarised in the brand idea ‘Pot Noodle, You Can Make It’. This play on words captures the simplicity and speed of the product and the real benefit: the gift of time to busy and ambitious young people. Check out the launch film below (remember, I did tell you the brand is famous for being irreverent!)

So what are the lessons?


1. Seek fresh insight. Much of the insight behind the new proposition came from getting closer to consumer than ever before, using in-home immersions. The team discovered Pot Noodles in the cupboards of students who denied ever buying the brand! The relative silence around Pot Noodle on social media wasn’t for want of trying by a succession of brand managers, it was largely because it’s consumers were too embarrassed to admit that they bought it! This confirmed the need for a more culturally relevant and resonant brand idea.

2. Remember and refresh what made you famous. As mentioned above, much of Pot Noodle remained the same and the brand stayed true to its roots. We didn’t try and make ‘natural’ claims on the pack or mimic the design of its’ more ‘foodie’ competitors. Pot Noodle proudly continued to act in the way that first made it famous, building upon years on memory structure. But it created a new chapter in the same brand story, continuing to be ‘quick and easy’ but in a way that was relevant to a very different cultural context.

3. Craft your big brand idea, and make it simple! ‘You Can Make It’ has been embraced by everyone. On the consumer side, the hashtag #YouCanMakeIt was used over 20 million times in the first three months of the re-launch. And the idea works inside the business too. The Sales guys get it. Customers get it. All the agency partners get it.

But it was a long time coming and certainly wasn’t the first idea that we and the creative agency (Lucky Generals) came up with. It really is worth waiting for the magic to emerge and not being ready to run with something which is almost there but not quite. Remarkable can take time!

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4. Consumer connection in a complex  world
. With a 16-24 target audience the temptation is to get all experimental and focus on new, trendy and largely unproven channels. Our team avoided this temptation, delivering excellent target audience reach across a number of proven channels, each of which had a valuable role in the mix, including:

  • The launch film was “seeded” on good old TV (a big spot on Britain’s Got Talent) but the majority of the views were via amplification social media
  • The team ran a wonderfully integrated on-pack promotion (what could be les sexy?!) with a free mobile phone recharger that was bang-on proposition and sold out in record time
  • Social media came to life through a request for time-saving tips and continues to bubble away. We actually funded production of the best idea: a revolutionary Noodlespoon invented by a young man from Sheffield!
  • Sampling: we visited 20 Universities and handed out 100K samples of Pot Noodle to students who were facing the daunting task of ‘Making it’ in their studies.

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5. Get “the casting” right. Alongside Lucky Generals and the talented brand team (a pan-European crew for you Leave voters!) were a small cast of like-minded individuals and agencies. Mischief handled PR, Mindshare bought media, Hey Human co-ordinated the digital activity. Although in reality everyone did everything and there were no agency or discipline silos. Social ideas came from all partners. Media thoughts were the domain of the whole team. It really does prove the power of a small (ideally never more than 12), talented and skilled team.

In conclusion, the Pot Noodle story shows how you can take a stagnant brand and get it back on the boil by remembering and refreshing what made you famous, creating a big brand idea and then activating across different channels, each with a clear role to play.