The Nutella Phenomenon, pt. 1

Transgression, Social Power, Mash-ups & Brand Awareness
in the Digital Age

"Start the day with Nutella!" is what the profile image of Nutella’s international Facebook page encourages its nearly 15 million fans to do. Today thousands of people welcome the morning with a slice of bread and the Italian number one selling branded hazelnut spread in America. Founded in 1964 by Pietro Ferrero, Italian pastry maker and businessman, almost half a century later Nutella is about to become a brand phenomenon and a social sensation in the digital age. For the first time in our tradition, the ordinary marketing strategies are neglected to liberate the consumers’ opinion and leave the brand in their hands. The following work discusses why and how a simple brand, selling jars full of hazelnuts, cocoa powder, sugar and vegetable oil, reached an almost sacred status in the new media world, raised a millions users fandom, was the reason for consumers’ parallel of a "sex in a jar", and even has its very own international day which is celebrated annually.

Transgressing the Old Marketing Rules

Inboud Marketing
picture taken from Halligan B., Shah D. (2010)Inbound Marketing

"We are living a revolution!" - as David Meerman Scott, bestselling author of marketing and PR related books says in the foreword of "Inbound Marketing". The ways we used to communicate between each other have changed, so did the ways brands interact with the masses. Understanding the revolutionary power of the world wide web and modern media technologies is quintessential for brands to prosper in the digital age and to create positive brand awareness. Embracing emergent media is what differentiate successful brands from those that rest on their laurels and sooner disappear in the fast growing channel of contemporary companies and names empowered by visionary strategists. New media is always surrounded by controversy maybe because it "threatens our concepts of space and time" (Gournelos T, Gunkel D) as Ted Gournelos and David J. Gunkel say in their book Transgression 2.0 but what more likely it reflects is the fear of established powers from the new and untamed. While ten years ago web was described as, among other things, a platform for professionals to publish and spread their commercial interests through adverts and materials, today the web (also famous in this context as Web 2.0, named by Tim O’Reilly) is a social platform in which the user is the king, the consumer has the power.

Marketing expertise is no longer a tool exclusively in the hands of companies. Today, consumers create services, goods, and experiences.
(Bernard Cova, Daniele Dalli)

Consumers are no more consumers and plain recipients of the companies’ offers. Consumers are now creators, artists and amateur designers. This modern shift in the functions of the end user and his new role in the creation of brand awareness is very well reflected in the Nutella brand and it’s the fundamental ground for its world wide recognition. It is an interesting time to look at and follow how new age media agencies are exploiting the integration of consumers in the market process and their contribution to it to create brands that are fueled by the end user. As the digital advertising agency Brothers and Sisters says: with the only users’ fear being the boredom, there are no boundaries for the consumer tribes’ social activities, resistance and influence on the brands.

In the context of these activities, are actually Nutella end users transgressing the brand and its values? Before answering this question, an exploration and understanding of the transgression act would be appropriate and even necessary. In theological context "Adam and Eve transgress God’s will’ when they eat the forbidden fruit. The violation of God’s name, with the immediate sanction of death, is the very model for the transgressive." (Julius, A. 2002) outlines Anthony Julius in the Transgressions The Offences of Art. To "transgress is to go beyond the bounds or limits set by a commandment or law or convention, it is to violate or infringe" (C. Jenks, 2003) says Jenks in his book Transgression, 2003. Transgressive acts question the powers of established systems in the culture industry by creating and using cultural jamming, hybridizations, mash-ups, user-generated content and other methods. Such activities can be easily annotated in the context of the Nutella brand awareness where users uncover their creative potential to bring alive memes and viral materials about the hazelnut spread. Nutella’s consumers with their enormous impact on the brand are once and for all here to resist and transgress not the brand itself but the old marketing rules, by generating content and creating powerful outcomes which will change the traditions of established advertising strategies, rewrite the rules of professional brand consultancies and intrude media territories that were previously forbidden due to access, technologies, cultural or legal rules.

Follow us and subscribe to us for the second part of this article, in which we discuss nutella mash-ups and 9GAG images.