Brand Dissection: Hippo – The Good, The Bad and The Fabulous

Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 5869 , Published on 22 January 2013

The Indian Snacking Industry

The Indian consumer’s taste and preferences have undergone a radical change in the past two decades when it comes to snacking habits. Snacks which essentially are a hunger quencher between meals were once limited to traditional food items like pakoda, poha, samosa, upma, sheera etc. However, Lays (then Ruffles), Uncle Chips, Haldirams and several unorganized players changed the snacking scenario in India. There was something very interesting that was happening in the industry, something that led to the industry growing to the tune of Rs. 6500 Crores by 2012.


The Indian consumer felt a growing need of having something that was tasty yet hassle free as snacks between the meals. Traditional snacks lost out as they were cumbersome to make and chips, namkeens, biscuits etc now became the preferred choice of snack. Changing lifestyles, fast paced life, incessant advertisements, stronger distribution channels and shrinking SKU sizes were the key reasons for these changing snacking habits. The entry of several major FMCG players such as Pepsico, ITC, Parle Agro and Britannia made sure that there wasn’t a single moment of peace in the newly begun Snack Wars. And just then, a cute fat animal entered the battlefield, apparently to fight the evil of hunger….

The Curious Case of Hippo the Snack

Ask about Hippo the snack and a majority would say they have heard of it but ask about who is the maker of Hippo and hardly anyone knows that it’s from the Parle Agro Stable. Ask about what is Hippo and one would get varied answers: Chips, just a snack, munchies, bread snack and so on. However, Hippo is neither potato chips nor a biscuit. It’s a baked wheat munchy that is available in several unconventional flavours.

Launched in 2009, Hippo’s value proposition is that it’s a Hunger Killer that is made up of Wheat and Free of MSG (monosodium glutamate) & GMO (genetically modified organism). Hippo differentiates itself from its competitors by the virtue of its assortment of international flavours and a very unconventional brand endorser – A fat Hippo. The brand’s communication plays on the generic need platform i.e. Hunger and the mascot Hippo is this earnest, easygoing guy who understands that often, we don't take care of our health by neglecting to eat.

The Good!

Most of Hippo’s Brand Promotional activities have been a grey area. The most striking and notable aspect is of Packaging. Hippo packs have used bright and unconventional colors solely to stand out of the clutter in shops. If we closely observe its advertising campaigns, every campaign has an interwoven social message which is strikingly different from other competitor campaigns which usually focus only on the taste.

The word ‘HIPPO’ written is in huge font goes very well along the brand personality. The Hippo mascot also is very conspicuous and a lot of effort has been taken to promote the mascot as a friendly and affectionate character. . The creation of Hippo as a mascot (and one that stays behind the scenes, as his face isn't shown throughout the film) is, in a way, the brand's way of saying that the true heroes are its consumers, and that Hippo cares for them. The innocence and goodwill associated with Hippo associates a sense of happiness and positivity with the Brand Character.

The Bad!

While Hippo has caught many eyeballs through its absolutely innovative advertisements and brand promotions, there are several signaling and positioning errors that the company has committed while communicating the brand.

The Advertisements

  • It is not clear whether Hippo is being portrayed as a healthy baked snack or not through the advertisements.
  • Hunger is the key highlight of Hippo’s advertisements but such a word alone cannot create a differentiation per se.
  • Hippo also suffers from an on/off kind of advertising strategy which will do more harm than good especially in an industry like snacks.
  • Although there is a strong social message in the advertisements it has no real connection with snacks and deviates from its actual value proposition.
  • A market such as snacks is heavily dependent on taste and how appealing the product is but Hippo’s promotions have seldom focused on these aspects.

The Mascot

  • Hippo’s Mascot, Hippo the animal, is not related to snacks in any way and is not visually appealing.
  • It may in fact give out a wrong message as Hippo is usually associated with terms such as: Fat, Ugly, lazy and unhealthy.

Flop on Facebook

  • Although Hippo creates wall posts related to latest events, a tactic very similar to Amul Butter, it hardly talks about the product itself.
  • While Amul’s Ads focus on somehow getting the butter into the advertisements, Hippo’s posts make no such attempt to create product awareness.

The Fabulous!

Using Brand to overcome the Technical glitches in Marketing

The Big Challenge

Hippo, a new entrant in the $1.5 billion Indian snack market, was launched in 400,000 stores across India. The sales and distribution network of Hippo was in a nascent stage. It was essential to ensure consistent availability to encourage trail and first time purchase. Stocks were drying up in stores by the hour and they found it challenging to track and re-stock the empty stores quickly. The challenge was to track empty stores quickly and plug the lag in supply and help Hippo cope with this super demand.

The Fabulous Solution

Hippo blurred the line between sales, distribution, and consumer by using social media as an information channel to fill the gaps in its distribution network. Hippo got his followers on Twitter to send him a tweet @HelloMeHippo whenever they were unable to find Hippo packs at a store. Thus the customers not only became a feedback channel but also as an inventory tracking interface. A core cell was set up to collect and disburse this information to the respective sales teams which restocked the store within hours.


Tweets poured in from 45 cities across India. At zero cost, Hippo had 400 additional people helping with Sales & Distribution over Twitter – equivalent to almost 50% of the strength of its Sales & Distribution network itself. Sales rose by 76% in the first few months of its launch. The campaign even helped Hippo identify, gauge demand, and prioritize its high potential new markets.

Exploiting the delicious connection between Cricket and Snacking

The Big Challenge

Hippo, upon its launch faced two main challenges. Firstly, it had to stand out of the clutter of an already crowded snack market and secondly, to create a strong brand preference and recall for Hippo Toasties in the mind of an average Indian Consumer. The key point to address this challenge was to associate Hippo with what the average Indian connects the most to. Cricket, was the obvious answer.

The Fabulous Solution

Hippo launched a campaign called the Indian Food league that catered to the Indian Fan’s love for snacking while he enjoyed his T20 matches. The IFL comprised of nine regional teams symbolised by the region’s most popular dishes, with Chennai being represented by Idli Sambhar, Mumbai by Pav Bhaji and Delhi by Papdi Chaat. Other dishes include Kanda Poha, Aloo Paratha, Daal Baati, Masala Dosa, Roshogolla and Dum Biryani representing the regions Pune, Punjab, Rajasthan, Bangalore, Kolkata and Hyderabad, respectively. So essentially, a ‘Mumbai Vs Bangalore’ match for Hippo became a match between Pav Bhaji and Masala Dosa. Every ‘Today’s Special’ mirrored the match schedule.


IFL received overwhelming response with Hippo’s sales going up during the IPL season. This also proved to be a classic example of using crowd-sourcing in brand building and developing customer engagement.

Using Augmented Reality to enthrall audience

The Challenge

With the launch of ‘Meri Maa’ campaign, Hippo aimed at entering the regular Indian Household by selling its proposition of providing food like a mother. It was in line with its positioning of ‘Killing Hunger’. Hippo faced a challenge of establishing a strong brand connect with a maternal figure and realized the potential of technology in simulating a life-like scenario to instill this proposition onto the customer.

The Fabulous Solution

Hippo Momline was a campaign that used augmented reality while trying to bring the rich essence of a mother’s cooking in a ready-to-eat snack. Hippo website identified a packet of Hippo Round Round using an augmented reality set-up and a web cam. Once the packet was identified, a customized visual would pop-up depending on the packet a person had bought. The visual, that was seen once the packet faced the web cam, was that of a mother who told the visitor about Hippo’s tasty snack and how it followed her recipe. The option of calling one’s mother was also available for a visitor. All he needed to do was feed in his mobile number along with his mother’s mobile number and the website would connect the two parties.


This campaign was a runaway success and was nominated for many awards. This campaign resulted in 2,50,000 calls made across 35 cities and towns just during the festive season. Hippo mom line caused a spike of 16% sales in Hippo Round Round in Indian cities while towns saw a 37% spike which is phenomenal considering the size of the Indian snack market.


There seems to be a clear disconnect between the company lens and the consumer lens.

Company Lens

Consumer Lens

Conscious deviation from Category norms to create differentiation and gain attention

Hippo being fat/unhealthy weakens its brand proposition as mascot

Attempt to create a self made category called ‘Munchies’

Unable to differentiate its munchies from other snacks like chips/wafers due to lack of signaling

Trying not to cater to ‘niche’ health snacks but to delicious product that pampers the taste buds

Confused Positioning between Baked and Healthy OR Tasty and indulgent

Campaigns like Pyar batt te challo’ and ‘Flavors without borders’ in tune with main theme ‘Hunger killer’

Lack of association between snacks and war/ conflict situations. Difficult to consumer to relate war/brotherhood with snacking

The company has made mistakes but at the same time carried out some good branding initiatives. The company needs to reevaluate its Brand Positioning and Signaling in the snacks market and reduce the consumer dissonance it is causing due to contradictory signaling. The aspect of association of social themes with snacking also needs to be reconsidered and also reframed to impress upon people the reasons to buy Hippo which is a product in the ‘impulsive buying’ category and not an emotional or value based one. The company is using Digital media effectively although here also it presents symptoms of weak brand associations. Once the signaling and brand positioning are re-evaluated, Hippo does seem to have a bright future ahead!

This article has been authored by Meera Joy Malekandathil and Prashant Bankar from NMIMS Mumbai.


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