Nutella Takes Aim at Syrup, Declares Itself the Superior Pancake Topping

Brand leverages 'pancake season' with new social and experiential campaign

nutella bar at grand central
The brand's Syrup Swap Shop took place Feb. 29 in Grand Central Terminal. Nutella
Headshot of Ian Zelaya

Key insights:

It’s no secret that syrup is the pancake topping of choice for most Americans. According to data collected by Statista from the U.S. Census and Simmons National Consumer Survey in 2019, 272.18 million Americans use pancake and table syrup, compared to 55.74 million who don’t.

Nutella, however, is arguing that it’s the superior pancake topping. Timed to National Pancake Day and Fat Tuesday on Feb. 25, Nutella launched a two-week campaign that encourages U.S. consumers to ditch syrup for its hazelnut cocoa spread as their pancake topping of choice.

The Ferrero Group-owned brand’s campaign includes social, out-of-home and experiential elements, anchored by the Nutella Syrup Swap Shop—a daylong pop-up in New York’s Grand Central Terminal that invited consumers to trade in bottles of syrup for a free jar of Nutella.

“From silver dollar to blueberry, people have grown used to seeing pancakes come in many different shapes and flavors; however, we believe topping them with Nutella brings the breakfast staple to an unparalleled level of deliciousness,” said Todd Midura, vp of marketing at Ferrero North America, in a statement. “That’s why we’re encouraging Nutella newbies and longtime fans to take advantage of one of these experiences and enjoy the magic of pancakes with Nutella.”

The brand gave away free jars to consumers who traded in used or unopened bottles of syrup.

Nutella worked with agency of record Terri & Sandy and PR firm Golin to execute the campaign, and tapped Track Marketing to build out the activation on Feb. 29. The brand promoted the pop-up with humorous OOH ads (featuring animated pigeons) in and around Grand Central. For the pop-up, consumers could trade in unopened or used bottles of syrup.

“We wanted to show Nutella was superior to syrup by going directly at it as a foil,” said Todd Condie, creative director at Terri & Sandy. “We knew [consumers] might have syrup in their cupboard back home. But we wanted them to try Nutella; all they had to do was bring in syrup, and we would upgrade it for them.”

According to the brand, the activation recycled used bottles of syrup and donated unopened bottles to Hour Children, a Long Island City-based nonprofit that offers services to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women. The brand declined to say how many jars it had prepared to give away, or the number of bottles guests traded in.

Dancakes provided onsite pancake art demonstrations.

While the draw of the activation was the syrup swap, the event also offered free pancakes topped with the spread, a branded photo booth and a pancake art demonstrations by Dancakes, a professional pancake-art company.

Nutella incorporated pancake art in a social push, introducing six dinosaur pancake designs as part of Nutella Creations, the brand’s original recipes available on its website. It also introduced a new skill on Amazon Alexa, where users can ask the voice service for recipes and access four interactive memory games that are meant to be played while breakfast is prepared.

The social campaign also takes aim at syrup with humorous ads that show what consumers can do with the topping once they’ve switched to Nutella, such as using syrup as finger paint, tile caulk and a lava lamp, among other wacky alternatives.

Nutella's social push promotes dinosaur pancake designs.

Condie said the brand didn’t have specific ROI goals for the short campaign, noting the focus was to create awareness.

“We’re building off a season where pancakes are already on people’s minds,” he said. “We want to help families across America by planting a seed in their brains about how to use Nutella that might already be in their cupboard.”

Nutella has been leaning more into experiential as a way to interact with consumers. The syrup swap follows Hotella Nutella, the brand’s first overnight experience in January that treated three superfans to a weekend of breakfast experiences. According to Condie, the brand has more activations in development, and experiential will be an integral part of its marketing strategy going forward.

More brands are also opting for trade-in programs as a means to boost sales or make their activations more interactive or purposeful. Dove introduced its new recycled plastic packaging in January with a vending machine-style activation (also in Grand Central) that invited passersby to recycle a piece of plastic in exchange for a free bottle of body wash. DTC natural deodorant brand Each & Every also launched a program that encouraged consumers to trade in competitors’ deodorants to be recycled in exchange for a free sample, while CBD brand Charlotte’s Web held a similar swap at its pop-up in Miami. Ian Zelaya is an Adweek reporter covering how brands engage with consumers in the modern world, ranging from experiential marketing and social media to email marketing and customer experience.