After 50 years, KitKat takes a break from the slogan that made its name

First the thin, foil wrapping was ditched for a sturdy plastic amid flagging sales. Now KitKat, the chocolate bar credited with spurring Britain to victory over Hitler, is undergoing a further makeover to retain its place in the nation's affections - by taking a break from its slogan.

First the thin, foil wrapping was ditched for a sturdy plastic amid flagging sales. Now KitKat, the chocolate bar credited with spurring Britain to victory over Hitler, is undergoing a further makeover to retain its place in the nation's affections - by taking a break from its slogan.

Nestlé Rowntree, the Swiss-based conglomerate that has seen the popularity of its once top-selling British chocolate brand wane, announced yesterday that it is replacing the brand's catchphrase of the past 47 years: "Have a break ... have a KitKat."

The wafer-finger snack suffered a dramatic shift in its fortunes last year when sales dropped nine per cent to £95.2m and it was deposed by Dairy Milk as the most popular product in a British confectionery market worth £6bn a year.

Earlier this year the company's new managing director described Nestlé Rowntree as a "business in crisis" amid ruthless competition from rivals such as Cadbury, which is launching a direct competitor to KitKat.

But Nestlé insisted last night that the new KitKat slogan, which it was forced to confirm after news of the overhaul was leaked, had no links to its sales problems and was instead being brought in to recognise the "changing structure" of the time-poor British work-place.

Harried chocolate eaters, who, according to the manufacturer, eat 47 KitKats every second, will now be enticed with the words: "Make the most of your break". A spokesman for Nestlé Rowntree said: "Our findings indicated that the workplace break is now less structured and formal. The new slogan is acknowledging that a break is less formalised but, even it is for five minutes, you can maximise your enjoyment with a KitKat."

The marketing makeover, which will be backed with a £5m television advertising campaign due to begin next month, is just the latest attempt by a retailer to improve its fortunes by changing its catchphrase. Nestlé Rowntree executives will be hoping to follow the example set in 2002 by their rivals at Mars. When the company changed the slogan for their bar from "A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play" to "Pleasure you can't measure" sales increased by 20 per cent. The relaunched Mars was also 2.5g lighter and had fewer calories to meet the demands of diet-conscious consumers.

Nestlé Rowntree said it had no plans to change the taste or content of KitKat, pointing out that it had seen sales of the brand rise by 10 per cent in the past two months. But the company has nonetheless made radical changes to the brand that was originally launched in 1935 as Rowntree's Chocolate Crisp and was endorsed by Winston Churchill's wartime government as a cheap and healthy source of nourishment.

In 1999, the company launched KitKat Chunky, a single-fingered alternative to the traditional four-fingered bar. Two years later, the old foil-and-paper sleeve wrapping which had featured in previous advertising campaigns was replaced with foil-lined plastic. Now the bar is sold in at least five different versions, including a low-carbohydrate bar to entice fans of the Atkins diet.

A lemon cheesecake flavour, already popular in Germany and Japan, is likely to appear in Britain and research has been carried out on versions with spices such as cumin.

But the diversification has coincided with setbacks. Last year, Nestlé Rowntree lost its position as the top-selling manufacturer in the UK and was overtaken by both Cadbury Trebor Bassett and Masterfoods, the maker of Mars bars.

The competition is only likely to intensify. Cadbury announced last month that it is to launch a wafer version of Dairy Milk. More recently, the company, formed in 1989 when Nestlé bought the York-based confectioner Rowntree, lost an attempt to have the KitKat phrase "have a break" registered as a trademark.

Chris White, the managing director of Nestlé Rowntree, who said his use of the word "crisis" applied only to the firm's marketing, has vowed to restore the company and KitKat to its former status.

Some observers were sceptical last night that it could be achieved through marketing alone. A senior executive for one marketing company said: "The UK is a saturated market when it comes to chocolate - we all eat about eight kilos of the stuff a year and all the medical advice is to reduce that amount - drastically. Changing a slogan isn't going to help much."

Other marketers said it could be a shrewd move. Rita Clifton, chief executive of the Interbrand consultancy, said: "It is true that the old slogan is probably over-recognised. There is a rationale to doing something a bit different but without losing that association with a 'break'. We might no longer be all taking 15 minutes on the shop floor but it is still a powerful message."

CLASSIC CAMPAIGNS

"A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play": The sing-song slogan, so similar to "an apple a day keeps the doctor away", was discarded by Mars after 40 years in March, 2002, to be replaced by, "Pleasure you can't measure". Sales had fallen sharply.

"Guinness is good for you": Still remembered from its start in 1929, although Guinness abandoned it decades ago. Scientists at Wisconsin University said it may be true: stout may have anti-clotting properties that cut the risk of heart attacks.

"I liked it so much, I bought the company": Victor Kiam coined this for the Remington microscreen shaver in 1979 and the advertisements ran for a decade. The boast made Mr Kiam, who died at 74 in 2001, famous worldwide. The new slogan is, "For an incredible close, comfortable shave".

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