Client: MeriBrands (Canderel & Equal)
Category: Consumer Public Relations for an Existing Product


MeriBrands (Canderel & Equal) awarded Janine Lloyd through Livewired Communications the PR account. We were tasked with intense strategic objectives including perception and crisis management, partnerships, corporate and social responsibility in addition to significant results targets – without the support exposure previously gained from heavy sponsorship investment of fashion events.

The campaign superseded expectations with exposure and results outshining all other countries that have the Canderel and/or Equal brand. Public relations and publicity was a major facet of MeriBrands marketing strategy addressing category leadership, partner alignment and consumer communications.

This campaign demonstrates not only the power of Public Relations and Publicity when executing a consumer product campaign, but the true power of a collaborative effort between client and agency.

Statement of Problem/Opportunity

In the past, MeriBrands followed the international strategy of aligning to style and fashion and recruiting new users. Things quickly turned to the point that the sweetener category in certain channels was stagnating and fighting shrinking sweetener shelf space compounded by the fact that unfounded rumours of the product’s safety was under the spotlight.

Sweeteners have been the subject of several e-mail chain letters, websites and articles, many of which contain incorrect information. The majority of websites, which refer to aspartame as not being safe, are written by people who are not qualified to comment on the subject. Additionally, there is an overwhelming body of evidence confirming there is no correlation between any reported symptoms and consumption of aspartame. It is the most tested food additive in history. Its safety has been documented in more than 200 scientific studies, which have been reviewed in more than 100 countries around the world.

Addressing the challenges and the opportunities key objectives were to focus on channel and shopper satisfaction, displaying real category captaincy (leading by example), lower reliance on traditional media and high-end sponsorships, increased focus on the previously neglected Equal brand and a key driver – a consummate and intense positive advocacy approach (health and safety).

As aspartame and sweeteners are widely used in a myriad of products, one of the stipulations from international was that we could not tackle the issue head-on, although the brands were clearly affected by the negativity.

Our key approaches were relationship marketing/communications with trade, consumer and health professionals in addition to positive advocacy (building perceptions) through partnerships, corporate social responsibility and media relations. A decision was taken to address the safety issue through positive association.


A strategic counsel was held with MeriBrands, consumer trends analyst Deon Chang, Janine Lloyd and other key marketing suppliers to review sales trends per product category as well as metrics and data below. Sales figures were available on the sweetener category and trends were analysed.

Market share information (Nielsen) and brand value research was considered. Previous marketing implementation plans and activities were reviewed which included channel (retail/food services) promotions and initiatives.

Target Group Index (TGI), the source for consumer data (17.3 million adults) was trended in terms of usage, frequency and affinity for Sweetener brands. TGI data enabled Livewired to develop compelling messaging and prepare its implementation plan. The strategic counsel was key to understanding strategic business issues, product target positioning, and identifying target audience categories. We reviewed MeriBrands (Canderel & Equal) Marketing plan.

The counsel combined the knowledge and insight of industry experts in consumer behaviour, marketing (above, below and online), communications, advertising, and the business to strategise the communications and marketing efforts of MeriBrands.

The counsel also provided opportunity for obtaining management buy-in for key concepts and ideas at the outset of the campaign.

Library and internet research was conducted to identify the following:

  • Key media influencers
  • Health organisations
  • Associations
  • Nutritionists
  • Health issues & content in the media

Scientific research and over studies 200 studies were reviewed – it was essential that the PR team working on Canderel had 100% belief in the brand, the knowledge to interact confidently with media and partners on key health and safety issues, as well as the understanding to develop content for the campaign.


A 7 step best-practice PR process was taken which governed our approach. The planning phase involved:

  • Develop the PR process – audience, message, content, channel
  • Define activities, set goals and timelines
  • Create feedback and measurement mechanism
  • Determine accountability and resource requirements

We took a multifaceted approach when planning the PR campaign, which started with the media and permeated through to consumers, influencers and niche markets.

Together with the client it was also decided to tackle negative rumours and misrepresentation through positive association.

Communication Objectives

  • MeriBrands focus for Canderel & Equal brands – retention and reassurance
  • Connect & engage sweetener users to ensure they do not switch to competitive brands
  • Overarching objective is to drive Positive Advocacy
  • Whilst we will be “arguing” in favour of sweeteners and the brands, our communications must create positive rather than defensive positioning
  • Reinforce positive perceptions and opinion about sweeteners
  • Respond to negative claims and comments about products
  • Build the database and frequency for electronic newsletters in addition to developing and investigating the web realm in terms of social networking, blogs etc.
  • Create opportunities through publicity and PR efforts to engage with audiences
  • Maintain positive one-on-one press relations with key media and develop new relationships
  • Provide informative content to engage the customer and influencers
  • Create awareness for products – launching new products
  • Influence specific target groups – diabetics, obese
  • Hot Beverage Alignment – piggy back on the burgeoning coffee culture
  • Educate audience highlighting health, benefits and safety

Target Markets

MeriBrands target market information is confidential but targets can be segmented as follows:

  • Calorie Counters
  • Dieters
  • Sugar Avoiders
  • Diabetics
  • Overweight / Obese
  • Weight maintainers
  • Retail Channels
  • Food Service
  • Staff

Message Formulation

We developed an overall message platform for Canderel which included the brand essence and overarching message required per product (tabs/pocket packs/powder/sachets/chocolate bars). Further messages were then developed and tailored for the target audiences which had been identified in the strategic counsel.


  • Pleasure centric
  • High Quality / Premium
  • Aspirational
  • Safe / Good for you
  • Health is a lifestyle
  • Hot beverage alignment
    – Food Service focus


  • More functional approach compared with Canderel
  • Energising
  • More value
  • Safe / Good for you
  • Diabetes focus

Common messaging for both brands was also developed to address the safety of sweeteners. A generic Aspartame FAQ and information pack was prepared by MeriBrands.

Communication Channels

The media selected focused on the target audience as detailed in the research and strategic counsel. The requirement from MeriBrands was to move the coverage from “entertainment, fashion, style and celebrity” sections to the serious body/sections of print media. This included health and lifestyle sections of main newspapers (print and online) as well as talk radio and relevant television programmes. Other direct channels were selected as part of the strategic objectives to connect and engage sweetener users.

  • Media
    Health media
    – Consumer magazines
    – Newspapers
    – Online
    – Trade/business
    – Radio
    – TV
    – Custom publications
  • Direct channels
    – Web
    – Engagements
    – Promotions
    – Sponsorships
  • Internal
    Canderel staff
    – Retail/sales/promo
  • Trade
    Shop owners
    – Restaurants and coffee shops
    – Hotels

Activity Plan

A PR activities plan was developed which included the following elements:

  • Media engagement programme
  • Media relationship building
  • Content development and editorial programme
  • Lobbying to interest groups
  • Partnership and CSR programme
  • Consumer engagement programme/publicity support

A full one year PR plan was developed which outlined key activities per week. Whilst the PR plan provided a guideline for our implementation efforts, we had to remain flexible to new opportunities and activities which developed over the year. Our approach was to prepare additional PR plans and timelines for projects and activations as they were finalised throughout the year. The yearly PR plan, however proved instrumental in guiding our overall activities for the year.

PR Execution

The following PR elements were executed throughout the year: Media engagement, media relationship building, content development, lobbying to interest groups, partnerships, as well as a consumer engagement programme.

A personalised and collaborative approach with media impacted significantly on the coverage achieved during the year. Content development was a critical component of the PR campaign with the team drawing on MeriBrands’ in-house nutritionist, expert spokespeople, research material and editorial brainstorming for interesting, relevant, newsworthy editorial.


Secured key partnerships and sponsorships on behalf of MeriBrands which drove significant publicity value for MeriBrands:

  1. Main Patron of Pink Link Breast Cancer Advocacy (Canderel)
    Engaged with Pink Link to support MeriBrands’ positive advocacy approach. This campaign highlighted sweetener safety in a positive way and allowed Canderel to connect deeply with its target market – cause marketing approach.
  2. Main Sponsor of Diabetes South Africa (Equal)
    Equal lent pervasive support to Diabetes South Africa (DSA) and through the partnership we provided vital publicity support and were able to channel key messages to DSA’s members. The partnership also delivered DSA endorsement of all products as well as facilitation in getting the full range endorsed by the Glycemic Index Foundation
  3. Platinum Sponsor of the Association of Dietetics South Africa (ADSA) (Canderel)
    Engaged and setup meetings with ADSA resulting in a platform to regularly communicate with qualified dieticians and nutritionists.
  4. National Diabetes Road-Show (Equal)*
    As a result of DSA sponsorship, Equal was asked to join Merck Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson and Dis-Chem as a promotional partner in the 1st national Diabetic Educational Road Show.

Media engagement programme (personalised approach)

In the first few weeks we spent time ensuring the Canderel and Equal media databases were 100% accurate and ensured the right media were identified and called. Telephonic as well as face-to-face contact was made with key editors and journalists on MeriBrands’ behalf.

Media lists were reviewed and updated with every press announcement, event or sponsorship activation.

The campaign had as a key strategy to provide engaging and compelling media pitches which resulted in either a press interview or an article, rather than expecting media to use our press releases. This worked particularly well with our partner and sponsorship campaigns for engaging mainstream media, who are traditionally difficult to get into.

Hampers and media packs were distributed to media at the outset of the campaign and during the year as new relationships were developed.

Throughout the year we engaged media responsively when there were any queries or discussion on Aspartame and the safety of sweeteners.

Content briefing documents were developed for MeriBrands spokespeople for all interviews as well as potential Questions and development of Answers to address sensitive or key issues. We ensured all spokespeople were accurately and properly briefed.

Media relationship building

On an ongoing basis throughout the year we met one-on-one with key media to ensure ongoing positive relationships and idea generation/sharing. It was essential that we cultivate a collaborative relationship rather than a one way approach to media engagement. Significant care was taken to ensure a positive, responsive approach with all the media, ensuring we give them what they want.

We also ensured that our media event/activations were well thought out, professional, engaging and informative to ensure the continuation of these positive press relations.

Content development and editorial programme

We developed original content by engaging with the full-time nutritionist for diet related content, researching through a press bank of research for new ideas, holding quarterly content planning brainstorm sessions with its editorial team and keeping abreast of issues at MeriBrands and in the industry.

Editorial content ideas were documented and included the topic, angle summary, media type, person to interview and supporting material to develop.

Original content was developed to create publicity opportunities for Canderel in association with its partners/sponsors/events.

Lobbying to interest groups

We engaged various interest groups to provide either introductory meetings, relationship building or PR support. These engagements provided a platform for MeriBrands to partner with these groups, create publicity opportunities and target audience engagement.

Consumer engagement programme
– Provided vital publicity opportunities

  • We participated and supported MeriBrands experiential activity which included:
    • Beeld Bride of the Year
        • Canderel has become the main sponsor with weekly exposure as well as becoming a partner in the awards ceremony
        • MeriBrands is part of the judging panel and has secured strong relationships with Beeld
        • MeriBrands is able to reach nearly 40% of its target audience – Afrikaans women
        • Provides MeriBrands with a dual platform, reaching young and older Afrikaans women
    • Good Food & Wine Show (Johannesburg & Cape Town)
        • Winner of 2 Gold Awards
        • Served a record 15,000 beverages
    • Marie Claire Coffee Couture Guide
        • Launched what was considered South Africa’s first definitive coffee guide
        • Included consumer and outlet participation for national nomination for favourite coffee shops across multiple categories
  • Does My Bum Wobble?
        • Following the success of No Sugar Canderel Please, well known theatre actress and producer, Shelley Meskin and Emmy winning script writer, Thomas Hall approached us with this sponsorship

      • A new South African musical comedy called ‘Does my bum wobble…?’.

      • We were tasked with the PR and publicity for this event
      • Secured numerous partnerships and barter deals
      • Launched social networking page on Face Book

Digital Media
You Tube Channel

  • Launched Canderel’s You Tube Channel (a 1st for an FMCG brand in SA) and contributed to content of video episodes and direction.
  • Video content included recipes, nutritional advice and entertainment.

Ask Mandy

  • Ask Mandy is an online advisory column on the web which addresses consumers directly on dietary and eating concerns. Publicity efforts directed consumers to Ask Mandy which ensured Canderel mention in radio and TV.

Online Newsletter

  • Developed content for Canderel’s online consumer newsletter. Content had to be relevant, interesting and engaging to appeal to its 50 000 subscribers.

Challenges and adjustments

Whilst the initial 12 month PR plan was detailed and well thought out, there were opportunities that could not be activated due to budget constraints. Initially we believed that engaging new audiences would form a key part of the PR plan. However, it was decided to eliminate youth and new sweetener consumers from the PR plan.

From an editorial point of view there were challenges in ensuring Canderel or Equal received a mention, especially with consumer media, however Livewired worked closely with dietician and expert Mandy Marcus as well as drew on the expertise of Janine Lloyd, who is also a trained life coach to provide newsworthy angles that media were looking for. This resulted in substantial national and community radio/newspaper, as well as print publication coverage to the value of R650 000.00 from one press article/motivation. In addition, our use of the Ask Mandy advisory column on Canderel’s website, ensured exposure for Canderel in these mediums.

We also researched the viability of setting up a sweetener council, however this idea did not align to international corporate guidelines.

Our success on this campaign can also be attributed to the trust of MeriBrands in Livewired’s approach. MeriBrands provided timely feedback, approvals and constant involvement in the campaign without interfering in a process that has proven to work. MeriBrands executives provided ideas and stimulated discussions which resulted in the PR company being able to execute on its campaign objectives.


Success of MeriBrands investments and initiatives mainly relied on publicity and online marketing.

Partnerships / Corporate Social Responsibility
Pink Link

  • Spearheaded launch of South Africa’s first online breast cancer risk assessment tool
  • Had over 7,000 individuals take the test
  • Raised the profile of Pink Link
  • Direct queries to Pink Link quadrupled after activation
  • Opened up new partnerships and opportunities with medical and pharmaceutical community
  • Opened direct media relations
  • The good results lead to international approving a special line of Pink Link Pocket Packs where R1.00 will be donated to Pink Link for every Pocket sold
  • Canderel using Pink Link endorsement logo on collateral
  • Record exposure for Pink Link

Diabetes South Africa

  • Quotation from Leigh-Ann Bailie, National Office Manager/Financial Manager
      • “Livewired and MeriBrands have taken DSA to the next level. They were responsible in creating a brand new updated look for our Association. The branding has improved so much so that people have commented on it by asking if we have changed staff. Livewired and MeriBrands has helped with their initiatives and marketing strategies to bring our association into the new millennium. The results have been positive. The perception of our association has changed. Our outlook has changed and therefore we are attracting new members’.

Association of Dietetics South Africa

  • Partnership contributed towards positive perceptions towards Canderel
  • Opened up direct channels of communication with Dieticians and nutritionists
  • Newsletter exposure culminated in the President of ADSA publishing a ground breaking release confirming the safety of Aspartame and encouraging its members to practice vigilance against rumour mongers
  • The Association’s logo has been placed on Equal packaging aligning Equal closely to the dietetic community
  • New product opportunities, which are current under development, have been provided due to engagement and feedback from nutritionists and dieticians

Measurement / Metrics
Considering the tough economic environment, the campaign contributed to the following as a result of its positive advocacy and relationship communication approach:

  • Equal grew over 9% in value and 8% in volume across all channels (Grocer, Pharmaceutical and Food Service
  • Canderel maintained its value share and grew 2% in volume across all channels
  • Overall MeriBrands value share across all channels is estimated at over 80% value share
  • Aspartame queries fielded by call centre dropped by over 40%
  • Recipe Requests (baking with Sweetener) increased by 20%
  • Consumers exiting the sweetener category has halted with the number of sweetener users now on a nominal growth curve after 4 years of decline (Target Group Index)
  • Press Coverage
    o Substantial press coverage was achieved with a total exposure value of R25 Million
    o Negative exposure on aspartame and sweeteners was also contained and was less when compared to ’07.

The campaign achieved results well beyond both company’s expectations. This campaign demonstrates not only the power of Public Relations when executing a consumer product campaign, but the true power of a collaborative effort between client and agency.