The taste of success: Bluebird’s seven-decade brand evolution

Emerging on television screens during the 1960s, when television was still a novelty for much of New Zealand, the infectious jingle of “Bird, bird, bird, Bluebird’s the word” has become deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness. With the iconic brand marking its impressive seven-decade milestone of delighting Kiwis’ tastebuds, we delve into its appeal as a timeless snacking sensation.

The year 1953 was a big one for New Zealand. Sir Edmund Hilary reached the summit of Mt Everest, a recently crowned Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, arrived in Auckland for their royal tour, and a visionary named Les Saussey began cooking sliced potatoes in a converted wash house on Khyber Pass Road.

Recognising there was something to this tasty potato snack, Les introduced them to the New Zealand public, selling them along with popcorn at Auckland’s Western Springs Speedway. 

With time, he brought to market the Salt & Vinegar and Chicken flavoured potato chips as well, which later on down the line were followed by Bluebird releasing other flavours that soon became Kiwi classics. By the 1980s it had also introduced popular corn-based products such as Twisties, Cheezels, CC’s and Burger Rings.

Natalie Johnson, Senior Brand Manager at Bluebird, is a fan of Salt & Vinegar with Kiwi onion dip, and says a key part of the brand remaining trusted and relevant is understanding that consumers needs change.

“We’ve slowly evolved our products to deliver to their changing eating habits,” she says. “This means striking the right balance of consistent quality and great taste on a range of core favourites, with just the right sprinkle of innovation.”

One significant change in this area was removing more than 12 tonnes of salt from Bluebird’s portfolio since 2014, using canola oil to cook the chips in and launching an oven-baked chip with 50 percent less fat.

Natalie Johnson.

“Consumers often assess a product’s impact on the environment before purchasing too,” Natalie says. “Bluebird is committed to increasing our positive impact on the planet by partnering with local businesses to help reduce our packaging’s impact. Our soft plastic packaging is now fully recyclable through the soft plastics recycling scheme and is converted into things like farming equipment and fence posts.”

Buying local is also an important part of maintaining consumers’ trust, Natalie says. Bluebird partners with local farmers, some of whom the company has worked with for generations, sourcing more than 30 million kilograms of potatoes per year.

“We’ve also prided ourselves on staying top of mind by evolving how we connect with consumers. Brands can’t maintain the same presence through engaging their customers with TVC’s any longer. The way people consume media has changed and we’ve had to significantly adapt to how we reach
our consumers.”

One of the challenges of being a legacy brand is staying relevant amidst an ever-changing and increasingly competitive market, which offers many new exciting things that consumers are eager to try.

While Bluebird’s original media strategies historically revolved around those famous commercials featuring penguins and “Bluebird’s the word”, the brand has had to evolve over time and now consists of more targeted messaging through multiple and often digital platforms.

“We also overcame this by staying true to what Bluebird is – crowd pleasing snacks that are irresistible and inclusive,” Natalie says

In this crowded snack market, she says Bluebird differentiates itself from its competitors by keeping its consumers at the heart of everything they do. “We strive for quality and consistency of flavour that consumers know and love.”

Having a cheerful giant penguin called Chippy as a mascot also helps, and Natalie says as a brand Bluebird understands the “importance of a strong distinctive asset”.

“Chippy has built fame as a fun, cheeky, playful, and social icon that is the epicentre for Bluebird’s brand personality today. The early ads with dancing penguins and polar bears or penguins skiing behind an orca are still remembered today.”

As a tribute to the brand’s 70th birthday, Bluebird unveiled a new promotion appropriately named‘Be a VIP’ (with the P standing for Penguin).

This initiative takes Chippy on a grand adventure to various destinations across the country, beckoning fans to seek out the giant penguin and encouraging them to scan a code found on Chippy to go in the draw to win prizes, including a trip to Queenstown for two.

As a marketer, it is a dream to work on a brand with strong distinctive assets that have “a deep emotional connection with consumers,” both of which Bluebird has, says Natalie.

“The challenge is to balance consistency and familiarity with modernising the brand to keep it relevant for the needs of an ever-changing consumer.

“Changing and adapting our communications to reach our diverse consumer base in the most relevant way. It’s about reaching the right audience with the right message in the right place. Our aim is to keep Bluebird top of mind for when the consumer reaches for their favourite snack.”

Tapping into the nostalgia many Kiwis have for this legacy, Bluebird brought back the iconic CC’s Tasty Cheese corn chips for a limited time,
in celebration of the brand reaching
70 years. Natalie says this particular corn snack had a “special place in our hearts – and bellies”.

Looking ahead, Bluebird has its sights set on being New Zealand’s favourite snack for another 70 years, which no doubt will include more product innovation.

As for Natalie’s favourite Bluebird ad over the years so far? “There is nothing better than the early Bluebird ads from the 90’s – the jive dancing polar bear and the jet skiing penguin,” she says. “And of course, the unforgettable Bluebird tune babababababa….” 

This article was originally published in the June/July 2023 issue of NZ MarketingClick here to subscribe.

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About Bernadette Basagre

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles, The Register and Idealog. To get in touch with her, email [email protected].

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