While its big rival brands invest millions of pounds a year in advertising, ethical chocolate brand Tony’s Chocolonely has achieved revenues of over €100m (£83m) without spending a penny on the media offline.
In fact, the product itself is the brand’s “number one marketing tool,” said marketing manager Nicola Matthews at Festival of Market: Transform today (March 24).
“We are a bit unique at Tony’s because until recently we haven’t spent a penny on offline media and we have the leading market share in the Netherlands,” she said.
“That’s quite impressive for a small Dutch chocolate brand.”
Instead, Tony’s relies on brand promotion and word of mouth. The company aims to recruit “chocofans”, that is, people who love and appreciate chocolate. The objective is then to make them “serious friends” of the brand, who could offer Tony’s chocolate to someone as a birthday present, buy a personalized tablet or talk about the brand on social networks.
We truly believe that if you have a story worth telling, you shouldn’t have to pay to tell it.
Nicola Matthews, Tony’s Chocolonely
Eventually, Tony’s hopes to turn customers into “serious friends forever,” who are so evangelical about the brand that they go so far as to get tattoos.
According to Matthews, Tony’s product is the brand’s biggest “recruiting tool”. First because of its “delicious” flavor, which brings people into the brand and gives it the opportunity to tell them about its overall mission to make the chocolate supply chain 100% slave-free.
Unusually, instead of equal square portions, Tony’s chocolate bars are unevenly distributed to represent the unequally distributed profits of the chocolate industry, from the brands to the workers who pick and process the cocoa beans.
“The product is a physical manifestation of the inequality in our industry,” Matthews explained, adding that it often sparks conversation among customers. Tony’s also prints its manifesto inside its packaging.
“Our product is really our number one marketing tool. We use all of our products to tell our story,” Matthews said.
Offering an example of how Tony’s has used its product in new and different ways to communicate its brand story, Matthews highlighted its “Sweet Solutions” campaign last summer. The brand launched four limited-edition bars designed to resemble other chocolate brands, including KitKat, Toblerone and Twix.
The limited-edition campaign aimed to raise awareness that 20 years after the chocolate industry first promised to eradicate illegal child labor, it is still widespread. Inside the package, a QR code led customers to a petition demanding human rights legislation to hold companies accountable for modern slavery and illegal child labor in their chains. supply.
While the bars were only available online in the UK, they were stocked at major retailers in other markets, including Wholefoods in the US.
Then, late last year, Tony’s launched an advent calendar that aimed to highlight the inequality of the industry by leaving a blank space behind one door, and two chocolates behind another.
The idea caused an unexpected level of outrage, widely reported in the national press. Tony received 100 calls, 2,000 emails and thousands of social media posts complaining about the missing chocolate.
“We discovered that the British people were very upset when there was no chocolate behind the door of their advent calendar,” said Matthews, saying the marketing team was completely unprepared for a such reaction.
However, the brand managed to redress around 95% of its complaining customers by telling everyone the story behind the move, she claimed.
“That’s what I mean by having a real conversation with your fans and turning them into serious friends,” she added.
Tony’s Biggest Challenge
However, a good product alone will never be enough to scale a business. Although Tony’s has yet to invest in above-the-line media, it has used owned and earned media to build awareness of its brand, including PR, events, social media and “really disruptive” in store.
“We really believe that if you have a story worth telling, you shouldn’t have to pay to tell it,” Matthews said.
However, admitting that without channels above the line a brand sacrifices reach, Matthews said Tony will soon start investing in paid media.
“Because frankly, we’re just kind of eager to make more of an impact in the industry,” she explained.
“[But] we arrived at a very good place without having to spend any money. So it’s a good lesson for a lot of small brands.
Our product is truly our number one marketing tool. We use all of our products to tell our story.
Nicola Matthews, Tony’s Chocolonely
Yet Tony still faces a huge challenge in figuring out how to communicate such a complex issue in just a few words. It’s “almost impossible,” Matthews said.
As such, the media and consumers can sometimes take the wrong end of the stick. In February this year, the brand was criticized in the national press for finding 1,700 child laborers in its supply chain.
In truth, Tony’s deliberately sources its ingredients from where child labor issues are greatest so the company can help fix the industry from within, Matthews explained. Last year’s 1,700 cases were the result of the brand’s work with two new cooperatives.
Indeed, the industry average for the prevalence of child labor in West Africa is 46.5%, she said, while in the cooperatives Tony has worked with over the long term, this number drops to 3.9%.
“We’re not ashamed of it at all and it ended up being a talking point. [and] a real plus,” she said.
However, Tony’s cannot change the industry alone, she added. “We need big chocos to join us so we can free the entire chocolate industry from slavery.”