Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Jul 5, 2013

CASE STUDY: How Nestlé developed a sweet treat in a bitterly tough category

Being heavily outspent by competition in the ice cream category, Nestlé still managed to create impact for its BenNaNa campaign.

CASE STUDY: How Nestlé developed a sweet treat in a bitterly tough category


Ice cream is a challenging category in China. More than 100 new ice cream products were launched in China in 2012. The industry is dominated by domestic giants Yili and Mengniu Dairy, as well as Unilever's Wall’s. Their combined retail value share is 46 per cent, with Nestlé as the #4 player, based on Euromonitor's Nov 2012 data.

Unilever’s Walls spent 17 times the budget of Nestlé, while local brands Yili and Mengniu spent 22 and 10 times more respectively in 2012. (Source: CTR adexpower, CODC, iResearch).

This made it harder for Nestlé to stand out in terms of marketing share of voice and at point-of-sale.


To launch its premium BenNaNa ice cream, the aim was simple: to make BenNaNa — which is eaten just like a real banana — from an unknown product to the must-have treat of the year. The 'banana' skin is made from tangy fruit jelly and the 'fruit' from flavoured ice cream.

The product had high novelty value, but was twice the price of the average competitor in a price-sensitive category. The communication objective was to cut through the category with a disruptive strategy.

As ice cream is a highly seasonal business, Nestlé needed to quickly create appeal and make BenNaNa the “in-thing” of ice cream in the summer of 2012.


BenNaNa's target consumers were defined as ‘kidults’ aged 18 to 31, who love food and  keeping up with the latest trends. The campaign built on the concept of BenNaNa being the world’s first ‘peelable’ ice cream.

To compete against the Goliaths of the ice cream world in adspend terms, a paid-owned-earned (POE) spending model was executed. A combination of public relations and social media efforts was employed based on the media habits of the target group.

As the target demographic uses Sina Weibo obsessively to stay up to date, a Weibo account set the tone of the campaign with fun pictures and entertaining stories about the ice cream product posted continuously.

Hashtags based on famous Chinese tongue twisters and folk adages, such as #EatingABananaWithoutSpittingOutTheSkin and #YouAreTheBananaOfMyEye, were used to good effect to encourage followers to upload pictures and videos of themselves eating and playing with the product. Netizens were also invited to design the ‘next generation’ of BenNaNa in a competition offering prizes of an iPad and a mini fridge.

These user-generated content made each Weibo poster a brand ambassador for BenNaNa with 86 per cent of posts containing original content.


Public relations tactics drove online buzz including 4.6 million Weibo posts and 2.1 million Baidu searches.

After more than 4 million active online 'brand ambassadors' spread the word about BenNaNa, brand awareness was driven to 42 per cent in five months. According to Nestlé, this is a highly unusual result without national TV support.

Awareness converted into immediate trial, which meant sales success. The product beat sales forecasts by 150 per cent in the first three months of launch.

Demand was such that retail shops ran out of BenNaNas, leading Nestlé to provide social-media tips on where to find them.

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