M&S’ Percy Pig will undoubtedly be one of our generation’s greatest advertising and brand characters. It’s truly a love story on so many levels.
From humble and rather sweet beginnings, today, they sell over 400 million individual Percy Pig sweets yearly, over 20 million bags, with 38 bags sold every minute. Yum!
But if you think the story ends with candy and cuteness, think again. The M&S marketers are sharp cookies and have extended Percy into over 50 items and many occasions from bath to bed time.
Bless his soul, Percy has a complete set of family and friends. And he even celebrated his fifth anniversary with Penny with the launch of their ‘You give me butterflies’ bag of sweets. Awww!
So with this romance in full swing, let’s look at what has made him a British icon and the jewel in M&S’ crown.
A love that almost wasn’t
Like most good romantic tales, it almost wasn’t to be.
It began in 1992; Julia Catton, accredited as the inventor of Percy, admits that getting the right shape of Percy sweets almost knocked it off course.
Initial versions were just unsuitable, and they needed his cute enduring face and jelly ears refined many times over, to get to the version we know and love today. So a relentless focus and fighting the tides eventually got it onto our shelves. Imagine a life without Percy in it. I just can’t!
Not to mention, Percy could have been named Peter, but it’s safe to say it just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Characters are cute and memorable
Now, we must look at the smarties that M&S are, as they were ahead of their time. You see, it’s only in the last decade or so that we have learnt about the science behind characters. So they were truly ahead of the game on two levels in this regard.
Firstly, System 1 shows us that the most potent memory structure of any is, in fact, animals.
Now, overlay sweet, adorable and cute, and you’ve amplified your resonance.
Secondly, a white paper by Born Licensing identified characters as the most effective way to build memory structures.
It beats celebrities, sports stars and just everyone else.
This was corroborated by System 1 again when they looked at recent Super Bowl advertising and found precisely the same thing.
We can see that ‘fluent devices’ are the most effective category for advertisers.
This is where characters like Percy would sit.
Crafty colour codes
An element that is a little underrepresented here is the role colour codes have played for Percy, as he shows up in his pink prowess.
The legendary challenger brand creative Dan Salkey recently wrote about colours in a LinkedIn post worth checking out.
Stories for every situation
Percy and his plights are what make him human(!). He goes on holiday, celebrates Halloween, has an active love life and even took a year out!
All the while, he can stay front of mind (and mouth) as he comes up with a new candy concoction for every occasion.
Stories are what keep people interested and the brand front of mind.
It allows the brand to maintain the high frequency of voice in the market.
Why is this important?
You see, you want to build your brand around consumer occasions and then be front of mind during those occasions. So you are relevant, and you become the obvious choice.
I can’t imagine having a kid’s goodie bag or a Christmas stocking without my fill of Percy and his pals.
Brand extension is intelligent customer segmentation
What do the Avengers and Friends have in common? There is a character we each (secretly?) want to be. We live our lives through a combination of affiliation, association and aspiration.
Introducing new members of the Pig (is that his surname?) household creates more incredible stories and reliability, increasing the buyer audience.
Brands need to move with their customers and evolve with them. It’s a case of increasing your Customer’s Lifetime Value.
It’s like that classic John Lewis advert, Always a Woman, showing they are with us for a lifetime.
Cater to conscious consumers
There is a slight irony and vested interest (!) on the part of our dear friend offering a vegetarian and vegan range.
Today, Percy is no longer a porky pastel (at one time, he had gelatine which can be made from cows or pigs) and is now wholly veggie and even vegan (on some ranges). It’s a great way to extend their reach into other consumer segments.
Poll position in M&S
M&S made a bound move in their 2021 Christmas ad bringing Percy to life and showcasing their Christmas foodie goodies.
He became a magical, poetic symbol of delight with Tom Holland doing his voice-over.
What a coup, indeed!
It’s one of the rare occasions where Percy has represented the brand across the estate showing him as more than a much-loved mascot and as the headline act.
It’s all part of the plan, peeps. You see, it’s clear that he is getting his trotters into other categories and taking centre stage. I wonder what he charges for an appearance?
Percy grooves on Tik Tok
This brings me to his next trick on Tik Tok. Not only is he a poet, and an actor bu,t also a dancer and content creator. What next – Britain’s Got Talent, maybe?
He gets, on average, 50k views per post (if he was a real dude, he could charge some severe dosh for the privilege).
It reminds me of the Duolingo Green Owl, Duo.
Who played a considerable role in creating what today is a 6 billion dollar company.
Massive qudos to Zaria Parvez, who is credited with the success of Duo on social.
But it shows the power of having a presence on these platforms and authentically leveraging Percy’s voice.
Percy and Partnerships
Ooh, la Percy has also used partnerships to significant effect. One of Sophie Jacobs, Brand Manager for Percy Pigs, favourites, is the one they launched with Nail INC.
It’s so on brand, as they put together a nail varnish in the exact colours and scent of the sweets. What I love about this story is that Sophie recounts her suggestion at her interview and then brings it to life when it’s a role. What a fab place to work where you can truly get your creative ideas to life!
There have been a string of outstanding partnerships, from Tiffanie’s and Nike to Primark and Gregg’s. This trend will continue mainly as it creates a buzz, and partners can use shared media assets.
The power of Percy Pig is just getting started. He just turned 30 last year and with a rich heritage, distinctiveness and a team looking to elevate his status. He is one to watch as he moves into his next decade of existence.