People to Watch 2020: Ryan Nolan
Company: Ferrara Candy Co.
Title: Senior Associate Brand Manager – Keebler Cookies
Education: DePaul University (bachelor’s, advertising)
Ryan Nolan has always wanted to understand consumer behavior and is still, in his words, “obsessed” with the reasons behind what people do. When he learned more in college about creative space and how consumer messaging can impact someone to operate or think differently and his eyes were opened to the world of brand management, he knew that’s where he wanted to be. “From ideation to in-market execution, whether innovation, consumer messaging to activation or the behind-the-scenes foundational strategy that brands go through – that was what I felt destined to do,” he says.
Working first at Groupon, next at Pep LLC on the Kraft Heinz account and then actually at Kraft Heinz, Nolan has led efforts for brands varying in complexity and size, both new to market and legacy, in what he calls a perfect mix of art and science. “I get to experience full 360-degree ownership of these brands, seeing all aspects and how they work together, and it’s so rewarding,” he says.
Nolan joined Ferrara Candy in January as senior associate brand manager for the Keebler cookies portfolio, charged with overseeing the iconic brand’s relaunch under the Ferrara umbrella – a true comeback brand story. “We have large competitors dominating the cookies category, but the No. 1 priority was to invest and rebound this brand – and I would have direct ownership,” he says.
Food has always been the center of his focus: his first job was corn detasseling at 14 years old in his home state of Iowa. “It was what all the ‘cool’ kids did,” he notes. He is now the brand lead responsible for equity, consumer communications and base business general management, touching on business analytics, demand planning and shopper marketing, among other duties. He is also the integrated marketing communications planning lead for the cookies business unit within the company. Working on the largest brand now in the Ferrara portfolio (Ferrara acquired Keebler cookies in July 2019), Nolan is focused on long-term strategy framework for the brand.
In August 2019, the company officially relaunched Keebler cookies to consumers, with Nolan leading the campaign work from strategy development, briefing and creative development to in-market execution. “One of our first priorities was relaunching ... in a modern and unique way that still ladders back to our point of difference on why Keebler is so special,” he says. The effort saw an investment in both quality within the base products as well as brand advertising. Starting with the biggest sub-brands in the line – Fudge Stripes, Chips Deluxe and Sandies – the company added real ingredients, removed high-fructose corn syrup, modernized packaging design, and enhanced its freshness and resealability technology.
“We’re very excited to bring the magic back to Keebler and share the amazing work my team and agencies have been able to accomplish in a short timeline and with the hurdles of COVID-19 this year,” he says. “We developed a consumer-vetted equity communications strategy, strong creative territory, three new TV spots, and a robust 360-degree activation across the majority of consumer touchpoints.” Given that most of the work has been virtual, it was a challenge, he admits, but a great learning experience for effective communication and prioritization.
Nolan says brick-and-mortar and e-commerce are equally important as he moves forward with the Keebler brand. E-commerce is treated as its own traditional channel, in the same light as food, mass or club, for example.