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Will Google’s Android KitKat Bar Promotion Catch On?

Aaron Pressman
The Exchange

“Break me off a piece of that KitKat bar” is a memorable jingle but the popular Nestlé treat is re-tuning its brand image with a Google campaign that may confuse consumers.

KitKat bar with Android

Google (GOOG) announced on Tuesday that the upcoming version of its Android software for smartphones and tablets would be called “KitKat.” To promote the name, Google will, inside specially marked packages of KitKat bars, be giving away free Nexus 7 tablets and credits to buy digital apps and media from its Play store.

The combination of a chocolate bar and mobile phone software could be a bit jarring to consumers, says Jonathan Salem Baskin, a well-known branding consultant who worked on the launch of Apple’s iMac computer. Google may have been excited by the prospect of reaching the huge audience of loyal KitKat eaters, but numbers alone do not make for an effective branding campaign.

“Do folks tearing into KitKats have the time or inclination to care about a promo like this?” Baskin asks. “Are a large percentage of them even the right targets in the first place?”

Past failed efforts

The deal is a reminder of Apple’s (AAPL) failed effort to boost iTunes music sales with a 2004 Super Bowl commercial and promotional giveaways in Pepsi bottles. Pepsico (PEP) put codes for free iTunes song downloads in 100 million bottles of soda but only about 5 million were redeemed.

"We had hoped the redemptions would have been higher," an Apple spokeswoman said at the time.

More recently, Verizon (VZ) tried to pump up sales of its Fios cable TV, Internet and phone service by offering free netbook computers and video cameras. But sign ups decreased after the mid-2009 campaign, and Verizon switched to a cash rebate promotion.

The KitKat campaign is also a change for Google, which has previously named versions of the Android software after generic desserts and treats (in alphabetical order) such as donut, éclair, ice cream sandwich and the latest — Jelly Bean.

The first official KitKat announcements came as simple blog and social media posts from Sundar Pichai, who oversees Android at Google and posted a picture of the latest Android statue to grace the Google campus.

Android Kitkat statue

But the posts paled in comparison to humorous videos and websites that accompanied the announcement. Nestle’s KitKat site switched to promoting the candy bar as if it were a hot new smartphone, touting its “confectionary engineering” and “tri-core wafer thin CPU with full chocolate coverage.”

And, in a video posted on YouTube, a British-accented narrator who sounds like Apple design chief Jony Ive brags that every edge of the candy bar “has been carefully considered and crafted to create a beautifully immersive and multi-sensory experience.”

There was one small branding snafu, however. A more traditional video from Google about the upcoming Android release appeared to show employees holding an as-yet unannounced new phone. Google pulled the video after several blogs highlighted the device, possibly the sequel to the company’s Nexus 4 phone.

The KitKat name arose from the free snacks Google offers its hard- working programmers, John Lagerling, director of Google’s Android global partnerships, told the BBC.

"One of the snacks that we keep in our kitchen for late-night coding are KitKats,” Lagerling said. “And someone said, 'Hey, why don't we call the release KitKat?'”

More than 50 million specially branded KitKat bars will be available in 19 markets including Australia, Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, Middle East, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, a Google spokeswoman said.

Some saw the whimsical partnership kickoff as a positive, grabbing plenty of attention on social media platforms such as twitter. The combo is intriguing and fascinating, says Jim Gregory, CEO of CoreBrand.

“It is fresh, fun and tasty,” Gregory says. “What more can you ask for in a brand launch?”