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De Niro stars in GoodBagels blockbuster, but will it roll in the dough for Warburtons?

May 2019

This is a self-funded case study using our Advertising Testing solution.

Robert De Niro is the latest A-list celebrity to star in a string of ads from Warburtons, the iconic English baked goods giant. Previous ‘episodes’ have featured high-profile celebrities such as Sylvester Stallone and the Muppets, with the manufacturer ramping up its marketing efforts over recent years in an attempt to overcome stagnating category growth.

The Oscar-winning actor turned back the clock in a play on the 1990 smash-hit Goodfellas, playing a familiar role as a New York mafia boss. The juxtaposition of walking-brand-asset-for-an-iconic-bakery Jonathan Warburton and attempting-to-reboot-his-movie-career Robert De Niro could have been jarring for consumers, but contextually it works.

Warburtons were willing to give the majority of screen time to De Niro – unsurprising given his rumoured appearance fee – while the narrative itself was built entirely around the brand and its products. The cinematic approach masterfully intertwined a healthy dose of humour, resulting in viewer attention and engagement being maintained throughout. Feelings of amusement and happiness were amongst the strongest emotions elicited by the ad.

Many clients are surprised to learn that using a celebrity in an advertisement has no more than a fifty-fifty chance of working. But when it does – as ‘GoodBagels’ shows – the upside is far-reaching.

Celebrities aren’t just powerful because of their ability to generate engagement and evoke an emotional response, but more importantly they provide brands with a platform to leverage the values and associations they possess. This has the potential to drive positive outcomes for the brand in both the short- and long-term.

Even in the absence of a heavy product sell, ‘GoodBagels’ was extremely persuasive, with a strong short-term sales uplift expected. How is that possible, you ask? Well, if Warburtons can afford to pay a big, famous, international celebrity to feature in its advertising, then it stands to reason that they must also be a big, trustworthy and reputable brand. This transference of associations is interpreted as a quality assurance; if the brand is well-known and successful then there must be a lot of people who like it.

Much of the existing goodwill toward Warburtons is centred around nostalgia and heritage. It is recognised through iconic assets; delivery lorries, the city of Bolton, and Jonathan Warbuton himself – however, these are all from a very different world to Hollywood.

This is the challenge facing Warburtons as it attempts to delicately balance its iconic – yet somewhat dated – perceptions, with associations of modernity and innovation. Because of this, people didn’t consider ‘GoodBagels’ to be a strong fit with their expectations of the brand – one of the few areas where performance wasn’t off the charts.

Regardless, ‘GoodBagels’ is a highly effective piece of creative that will ‘roll in the dough’ for Warburtons. Changing embedded attitudes and developing new brand cues won’t happen overnight, or even over the course of a few executions. Instead, continuing to use and build upon the brand’s existing assets makes a lot of sense. Greater branding clarity will come with time so long as Warburtons can foster the positive sentiment that has carried the campaign so far.

Celebrity Advertising Testing - DeNiro Warburtons Ad Performance

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