Huel say no to TV, go back to digital-first marketing

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Meal replacement giants, Huel, have ditched their fledgeling TV advertising efforts and will revert back to digital channels to help expand its offering into ‘impulse’ retail spaces, such as convenience stores and petrol stations.

Huel launched its ‘Eat. Complete.’ TV ad – its first foray into television – at the end of 2018, to enhance its already-impressive YoY growth figures (up 185% from 2017). However, despite launching across Comedy Central, Dave, E!, Sky News and Fox, Huel’s founder, Julian Hearn, was underwhelmed with the response.

“TV probably influences me as an individual, so we gave it a go but it was very difficult to measure and track.”

Here’s the ad, so you can see for yourself:



Perhaps it’s no great surprise that a brand such as Huel, founded in 2014 and with a younger, tech-savvy audience, finds its natural marketing home in digital. But Huel’s decision to not invest further in TV is interesting in the face of a host of other digital-first brands expanding into the medium, such as Netflix, Amazon, Google and Facebook. (Whose TV investment has doubled in the past few years.)

There are too many variables at play to say whether Huel have done the right thing in ditching TV. Was the creative strong enough? Did they advertise across the right channels at the right times? Did they go cross-channel and support it with digital campaigns? Did they give the ad – and the medium itself – enough time?

Of course, it’s possible Huel have been too quick to dismiss television. Which, if you can afford it (a big if), is still the most effective advertising medium. Yet Huel are doing brilliantly across digital, to a point where they don’t need the impact of television to grow and speak to its audience. At least not for now.

“I don’t like guessing or hoping. I’d rather get what I paid for.”

Julian Hearn, Huel co-founder.

After all, there’s surely an element of ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ for a business that’s gone from £0 to £40 million revenue in four years, fuelled largely by a highly engaging ecommerce site and active online forum. Oh, and a great product, of course.

And it’s not like Huel are alone in keeping its advertising budget away from television. The US Navyswitched its advertising from 70% in favour of television to 70% in favour of digital in 2018, citing the more flexible and targeted personalisation afforded by digital media.

Whilst retailers Next – a once-stalwart of TV advertising and with an older audience than brands such as Huel – have also seen the digital light, increasing its online advertising budget in 2019 by a whopping 125%. Money for which has come from a big reduction in its above-the-line media and catalogue production. (It’s reducing its direct mail, print and TV budget from £23m to £11m this year.)

Hearn also touched on that bugbear of television advertising, its lack of traceability – something that’s anathema to many modern-day marketers, who can track every click, every user and every exit point on their website. Data is king and queen these days. And easily accessible, inexpensively harvested data is the best kind of all.

As Hearn said, “I don’t like guessing or hoping. I’d rather get what I paid for.”

And, in this case, the proof really is in the protein powder.