A clever marketing strategy has taken the chocolate critters to the top, and overseas

If you do not recognise the names Ditty, Crag, Nap, Grumble, Boof and Mega Boof, the chances are your children are in that small percentage who do not eat chocolate. For the uninitiated, the names belong to Yowies, little foil-wrapped chocolate critters, whose hollow insides contain small colored “eggs”, which, when opened, reveal a plastic animal. It might be anything from a grasshopper to a numbat or even a funnel-web spider.

If this sounds like a gimmick, try telling it to Cadbury Confectionery. As the chocolate maker this month celebrates two years of the Yowie, sales have just exceeded $100 million and 65.5 million units.

The success of this Australian-born creature has been such that the company has started selling it in Britain, Cadbury’s second-biggest market. Yowies hit the shelves on April 26, and in the first five days more than 95,000 units were sold in Tesco supermarkets alone. Not bad for a product that began as an idea by two authors and their business associate.

Then again, one of those writers was Bryce Courtenay, better known to most people for The Power of One than for the power of plastic seahorses, possums and frogs. But as those who have dealt with Courtenay in business are aware, the power of selling is possibly his greatest forte. He certainly demonstrated it at Cadbury. Trish Fields, now sales director for “impulse” and new business at Cadbury, recalls that she was the junior member of a triumvirate to whom Courtenay presented the Yowie concept in 1993. Fellow writer Geoff Pike and business partner Ted Blackall worked with Courtenay in refining the proposal to the stage where they were ready to call on the marketing and distribution resources of a big manufacturer.

“Bryce brought the idea to us in terms of creative packaging, and with the confectionery idea in an early form,” Fields says. “He presented it to [now retired Cadbury chairman] Kevin Hayes, the then marketing director Rod Slater and me as new-business manager.” She says that 10 minutes into the presentation, Hayes and Slater exchanged a nod of approval. When Courtenay had finished, Hayes told him he had a deal. “Bryce was speechless,” Fields says.

It took four years and $17 million to bring the Yowie to market, but within 10 weeks of its May 1997 introduction, sales had pushed past 10 million units. By August last year, Yowie had 40.2% of the $200-million children’s confectionery market, giving it the leadership position it has held since.

The British debut is the most important stage in the global marketing of the Yowie (it has been introduced to New Zealand, Japan and Singapore), and the company has allocated £1.5 million ($2.2 million) to the campaign. “That translates to considerably more if this was a product being launched on the adult market, which would need a much bigger budget,” Fields says. As the Yowie “guardian”, she is the first woman appointed to the Australian board of Cadbury’s.

Courtenay and his fellow Yowie creators formed a company called Kidcorp, which still handles all creative output and owns the Yowie concept outside the Pacific Rim, where Cadbury retains ownership. The British arrangement is a licensing deal in which Kidcorp and Cadbury receive equal shares of the royalties.

Fields is clear about the reasons behind the product’s success, even if it seems to have taken competitors by surprise. Putting toys into chocolate was not a new concept: Ferrero’s Kinder Surprise was already well established, and Mars had released a copycat line of Milky Way Lucky Dips. Fields attributes Yowie’s rapid market dominance to the educational and environmental benefits of the concept.

Yowie goes beyond chocolate with toys. Product extensions are also crucial: Yowie books, a magazine, audio cassettes, CD-ROMs, information kits for kindergartens and primary schools; discount vouchers for entry to zoos; and the imminent Yowie movie (a six-part animated series has begun on

British TV).

After two years, Yowie’s market position looks impressive, but is it just a fad? Fields says: “We have a plan in place for the next 10 years. This has not even hit its straps yet.”

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