Pic'n'Mix - Creating a Legend
Frank Woolworth had a maxim:
"Dress your windows twice a week with big leaders attached - that is our advertising".
He believed that 'big leaders' - retail jargon for great special offers - should be enough to promote the stores without needing paid-for advertising. The firm followed this policy for its first fifty years in operation in Britain. The chain grew by word of mouth, helped along by elaborate window displays. These were used to showcase each area of the range in rotation. The Confectionery and pic'n'mix windows were imaginative and eye-catching and often became the talk of the town!
Window displays of sweets were particularly popular with customers and staff, and proved very effective at encouraging the public to try new lines from the pic'n'mix counter. The product manufacturers were keen to help out. They provided a variety of showcards and shopfittings to help put the word out. Sometimes sweets were displayed in jars, but more often the unwrapped sweets (or replicas made of plaster or wax that could cope with the intense heat of the sun on the window) were displayed on glass dishes.
These displays promoted a half a pound (227g) of sweets for sixpence (2½p) rather the regular eight pence (3p). Mathematically the saving equates to the 'buy one get second half price' promotions that are used by many supermarkets and High Street chains to this day.
The firm's decision to publish and sell a customer magazine - Good Things To Know provided a rare opportunity for suppliers to advertise their sweets and attempt to push ahead of the competition.
But these, along with patchwork double-page newspaper advertisements showing hundreds of different threepenny and sixpenny products, were very much the exception. Up until the Second World War a Woolworths advertisement (other than to promote a new store opening) was almost as rare as a Rembrant!
Little by little, in the 1950s things began to change. Faced with increased competition, the firm started to dabble at advertising, aiming to line up the printed words and pictures with traditional window displays in-store. Press advertisements often featured the signature weigh-out sweets to draw customers to the stores to look at new ranges, with bundled deals offering savings on sweets when customers bought groceries, biscuits or general merchandise.
When manufacturers had new products to launch, many considered Woolworth the natural choice. Buyers were offered a period of exclusivity in exchange for offering counter space quickly. Such promotions were backed by signage in-store and elaborate packages of point-of-sale for the windows. For example, when Macintoshes of Norwich introduced a sweet assortment called Quality Street and a box of chocolates branded Good News, they were given pride of place for six weeks at Woolworth. Store Managers, who had initially been sceptical about the potential of the new lines in a saturated market, were surprised at the high sales.
Success prompted other sweet manufacturers to follow suit, and for much of the Fifties sweets dominated at least one window at each store. This helped to boost the chain's share the confectionery market, and to make Woolies' pic'n'mix a legend in its own lunchtime.
Not to be outdone, Melba, the supplier behind a wide selection of exclusive own-label sweets for Woolies, responded with a barage of new window displays of their own. They offered substantial discounts to shoppers and even experimented with new cheaper lines with higher 'kid-appeal'. These included packet sweets for just one and two old pennies.
Melba were very proud of their long-standing relationship with F. W. Woolworth, and sold exclusively through the chain's High Street shops. Special windows were prepared to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the liaison. They proved a hit with the public and kept the supplier's factory, which was located alongside the mainline railway at Peckham, South East London, busy round the clock.
In a major break with tradition, after much debate the Board decided to take a more aggressive approach to sales promotion for the Company's Golden Jubilee in 1959. They launched a million pound campaign in the press, cinema and, for the first time, on television. For added effect, the chain also hired special help to put the word out in selected locations. Pictured on the right is the town crier of Preston, Lancashire. He entered the spirit of the occasion with gusto and shared news of the birthday with shoppers outside the Fishergate, which had been one of the first to open back in February 1910.
The promotion included bundles of related products at a special price. A pre-packed carrier bag containing pic'n'mix sweets, snacks and confectionery count lines proved particularly popular. The deal was repeated many times during the 1960s.
The Golden Jubilee multi-media advertising and associated PR campaign attracted a million extra shoppers to the stores each week. The increase in traffic was sustained for more than seven years, despite the firm's decision to stop advertising on television in 1960. The brand did not return to the small screen until 1975.
Woolworth pioneered new styles of sales promotion during the Sixties and Seventies. It was behind much of the early thinking behind more recent multi-buy and link-save promotions. Following the withdrawal from TV expenditure on print advertising was increased. According to the Annual Report for 1963/4, the chain was the first to book a 'double page splash' in the popular press (left). The author appeared unaware that Woolworth had first booked facing pages to mark major store openings in the 1930s.
Executives deliberately kept the product descriptions in the press advertising vague. Managers were encouraged to clear their surplus in the assortment bags, meaning branches offered different weigh out sweets and countlines.
In the mid 1970s Woolworth changed its strategy, launching a major, national advertising campaign on ITV. The year-round commercials peaked at Christmas. Confectionery featured briefly in most of the 'Wonder of Woolworth' television commercials and appeared regularly thereafter. The original campaign, which was the brainchild of legendary ad agency Allen, Brady and Marsh (ABM) added the 'Wonder' to Woolworth. The name stuck and has been associated with the brand ever since. Examples of the ads, which saw stars of the day promoting products from the chain's' various ranges, can be viewed in our 1970s Gallery and in our virtual cinema here in the Woolworths Museum.
Pic'n'mix got its own television campaign when the range was relaunched as part of Kingfisher's Operation Focus in 1988, including a catchy jingle, and in 2001 Ant and Dec starred in a "Don't forget what you came in for" advertisement with the punch line "Pic'n'Mix".
Besides the charm and charisma of Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, other stars who advertised sweets for the High Street store chain on television included Don Estelle, Windsor Davies, Joe Brown, Sir Jimmy Young, Sir Harry Secombe, Georgie Fame, Edward Woodward, Bill Oddie, Terry Griffiths, and a group of uniformed policemen.
Fast links to related Woolworths Museum Content
Pic'n'Mix and Sweets Gallery