Wispa: Online Outcry Revives a Chocolate Bar
LONDON, Aug. 26 — Two weeks ago, a Facebook member in Manchester, England, added her name to an online campaign to bring back a chocolate bar called Wispa, discontinued by its maker, Cadbury, four years ago.
“Ive just signed petition-my life not the same since its gone I really do thik about them all the time — bring them back pleasssssssseeeeeeeee,” she wrote.
Users of Facebook, the social networking service, make up for any shortcomings in spelling, grammar and punctuation with their sheer numbers. After nearly 14,000 people joined “bring back Wispa” groups on Facebook, the food conglomerate Cadbury Schweppes announced on Aug. 17 that it would reintroduce the candy bar in October.
Companies everywhere are monitoring blogs and other online discussions for feedback on their brands and providing them with information about coming products, as well as placing so-called viral advertisements on video-sharing sites. But the company insisted that the expressions of affection for Wispa on the Internet were genuine.
The campaign for Wispa, and the decision by Cadbury to revive it, shows what can happen when nostalgia about lost brands converges with user-generated content and social networking sites.
“This is the first time that the power of the Internet played such an intrinsic role in the return of a Cadbury brand,” the company said.
Cadbury said it had identified 93 user groups on Facebook calling for a return of Wispa. Fans posted video clips from 1980s advertisements for Wispa, featuring stars of British television shows like “Hi-de-Hi!” and “Yes Minister,” on YouTube, the video-sharing Web site.
Thousands of other consumers joined online petitions. One of these, on a Web site that also plays host to campaigns to draft Al Gore to run for president, close fur factories in China, and shut down the Federal Reserve, implored, “Together we can make the world of chocolate a better place!”
During the Glastonbury music festival in June, a group of Wispa fans stormed the stage while Iggy Pop was performing and displayed a banner reading, “Bring Back Wispa.”
As Cadbury deals with the aftermath of a scare over salmonella contamination of some of its chocolate bars, and struggles with a plan to sell or split off its United States soft drink business, Wispa gives the company a feel-good public relations diversion.
Still, was it wise for Cadbury to give in to the consumer campaign? After all, Wispa was pulled off store shelves for what seemed like solid reasons in 2003. Sales were flagging, and the company said at the time that a majority of consumers preferred a candy bar that was introduced to replace it, called Dairy Milk Bubbly.
“Clearly you want to listen to consumers,” said Karl Heiselman, chief executive of Wolff Olins, a brand consulting firm. “But I think we have to be careful about relying on them to do our jobs.”
Consumer goods companies are trying to use the Internet in new ways. Publicis Groupe, an advertising company, recently formed a joint venture with Dassault Systems, the maker of computer-aided-design software, under which consumers will be invited to use three-dimensional modeling to help design products and their packaging over the Internet.
But the rise of such Web 2.0 forces as multimillion-member communities creates some additional challenges for marketers. How can they tell whether the vast scale of online campaigns like the one for Wispa reflects genuine support, or simply a joke that snowballed?
Perhaps for this reason, Cadbury has not said whether Wispa will be restored for the long term. For now, it has said only that it will produce 23 million bars, making them available for a test period of a few months.
If sales reflect the large recent demand, then it will be difficult to ignore the wishes of the public, the company said.
Cadbury declined to say how much it would spend on the campaign to reintroduce Wispa, which will be limited to Britain and Ireland. The move will be supported by billboards created by Publicis, Cadbury said.
British consumers seem especially eager to embrace products with sentimental value, particularly food and candy brands. Many of these have been cast aside by multinational companies that no longer wanted to invest in marketing them, as they streamlined their portfolios around global brands. Others, like Wispa, simply disappeared.
Alan Simonds, a retired computer network manager at a school near Eastbourne, in East Sussex, has an Internet site, bringitback.ecclesweb.co.uk, that is dedicated to campaigning for the return of some of these brands. He monitors it in retirement from his new home in Normandy.
“In the U.K., people don’t like things to change,” Mr. Simonds said. “And when they see something they like disappear, they get angry.”
Maybe, said Mr. Heiselman of Wolff Olins, “it took discarding the brand for people to really want it. This is a good example of consumers’ owning the brand, versus the corporation.”
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