Marmite vs Oxo: A Tale of Two Brands

Why do some brands make it into your basket while others stay on the shelf? What makes us want to buy one and not the other? Is it solely their inherent quality or is there something else at stake? A branding expert would say that this is no accident: it’s the emotional tug of a successful brand at work.

We thought it would be interesting and useful to compare two brands with very similar inheritances: Oxo and Marmite. One has tremendous, contemporary appeal. The other seems to be dying in front of our eyes. And yet it could all be so different.


Oxo and Marmite were both invented by talented German chemist Justus von Liebig (1803 – 1873) who discovered that you can create novelty foods out of the by-products of the new food processing industry.

First came Oxo, created around 1840 when von Liebig devised an efficient method of producing beef extract from animal carcusses and trademarked as Oxo in 1899. Marmite came when Liebig discovered that brewer’s yeast could also be concentrated, bottled and eaten. The Marmite Food Extract Company was formed in 1902.

Both Oxo and Marmite are concentrated versions of other food products. Both were invented around the same time, by the same person. Yet, both brands have followed radically different trajectories over the past 100 and a bit years.

Today, Oxo is owned by Premier Foods (current share price 4.69) while Marmite is owned by Unilever (current share price 2083.00). Oxo is generally viewed as static, characterless and dusty, while Marmite is considered cool, witty, savvy.

What the data tells us

A look at social media quickly determines gross disparity between the brands.

In the time frame 4 October 2011 – 17 November 2011, we have:


This is more than a case of Marmite simply being more involved in social media; the Marmite brand is “healthier” than Oxo. It is more relevant, more current.

Conversations Determine Brand Health

This gulf in reach and appeal between Oxo and Marmite did not always exist. In fact, Oxo saw great success in the 1980’s with its Oxo Family” TV ads staring Michael Redfern and Lynda Bellingham.

Marmite followed a similarly humble path, with the slogan “My mate, Marmite” chanted in commercials by an army platoon.

Why Marmite Succeeded

Marmite really took off when the brand used social cues from consumers to shape its branding. They realised that its distintive flavour had earned it as many lovers as haters. They played on this in 2009, when they invited netizens to join the Marmarati“, a secret society invited to try an extra-strong version of Marmite, thus leading to great word of mouth and a lasting crew of loyal brand advocates. Marmite continues to play on the “love/hate” relationship in its branding, running a dual-skinned website and actively fueling the debate.

Marmite recognised that the social web word-of-mouth marketing means everything to a brand and consumer conversations determine a brand’s health. Not only that, but you can actually measure these conversations in terms of currency, advocacy and engagement.

Why Oxo Fell Behind

Oxo, however, has done little to adapt its identity to the social web. Their website is basic. They have no Facebook or Twitter presence. In fact, the brand seems to have little identity. More importantly, Oxo has failed to use consumers to inform their marketing. In fact, they appear to have done little to adapt their marketing to what consumers are actually talking about.

This is a shame: Oxo once had huge brand value and excellent positioning. It represented the family, the warm feelings of shared meals, home comfort. Now it represents very little.

Oxo’s Opportunity

Despite the dearth of conversation about Oxo, what’s there reveals that the Oxo brand IS worth something. It has potential.

The conversation that’s there is very positive and good-natured.

We’ve seen people tweeting to Katy Perry:

@katyperry crush an oxo cube into ure beans and cook them.. You’ll be california dreaming ; p x”!/gems2000_uk/status/125914117696524288

Footballer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is nicknamed “oxo cube”:

Can some explain to me how Rosicky starts again and oxo cube doesn’t even make the bench? I’m beyond confused!/15Gooner/statuses/125538875505512448

Oxo is starting from a good base here. People have warm feelings about it, and even associate the brand with some major personalities.

What should Oxo do?

Oxo may or may not have a big marketing budget and during this time of austerity most brands are in this position. Fortunately, social media is free, and there are low-cost ways to benefit from it.

The thing to do is to opportunistically get involved in these conversations.

Oxo should do as Marmite have done: pick up on the conversational cues that are already there and ride it. Work on the Oxo-ness of Oxo cubes. Send Katy Perry and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a couple of boxes of Oxo cubes.  Set up a stand selling Oxo outside Arsenal’s next home game.

Oxo needs to build on the cranky, old-fashioned Englishness of the brand to drive PR and conversation. By simply observing existing conversations, Oxo can discover what the brand means to the different people who discuss it, be it slimmers or football fans. The brand should try out strategies and themes of conversation, see what works, test it.  When it finds a theme that resonates, build on it.

The key for Oxo is to just get out there, mix it up, and start making itself relevant. Learn from the success of Marmite and make itself relevant for the next hundred years.

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