By DOMINIC MILLS, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 16 June 2000 12:00AM
It’s no exaggeration to say that, at last week’s Marketing Society
awards, there was general surprise at the winner of the most outstanding
marketing achievement prize: Iceland. But, as the audience (which,
clearly, is far too well-heeled to shop there) digested the rationale,
there was general agreement that it was indeed a worthy winner.
In its darkest hour (to date of course - it could get worse),
Sainsbury’s should contemplate this, for there are more than a few
parallels between the two organisations. It wasn’t that long ago that
Iceland was itself considered the basket case of the sector - a title
for which Sainsbury’s now vies with Somerfield. Its shops were small,
grubby and clearly suffering from under-investment; its advertising was
all over the place and it chopped and changed its agencies. And, if you
asked the question: ’What is Iceland for?’, coming up with an answer
Now, of course, Iceland is renewed and reinvigorated. The famous ’Mum’s
gone to Iceland’ line, arguably a factor in holding the chain back, is
history. The range of products has been expanded dramatically and
Iceland has taken on the mantle of consumer champion, fighting
genetically modified foods and pioneering free home delivery.
Much of the credit for this has to go to its agency, HHCL &
At a time when all agencies talk glibly about their ability to provide
creative ’business’ ideas as well as creative advertising but few
actually deliver, what a pleasure it is to see an example like this.
HHCL is rightly applauded for transforming Iceland’s advertising, but
that’s the tip of the iceberg - its real contribution has gone on
beneath the surface in devising a complete repositioning.
Equally, however, Iceland’s top management must take considerable
Accepting that you are wrong requires courage. Selling the need for
change to a staff which may resist it demands patience and persistence.
Luckily, in Malcolm Walker, Iceland had a chief executive not only
prepared to lead the change internally, but also to stand up for the
Walker, for example, has converted his personal anti-GM passion into
something the company could also stand for.
I mention this in the context of Sainsbury’s. While it would not
necessarily make sense for Sir Peter Davis to ape Walker (didn’t he try
that at the Prudential in those ads?), he could do with demonstrating
some of the latter’s passion. Funny that. If you look at Britain’s most
successful retailers - Tesco, Asda, Carphone Warehouse, French
Connection - they all have two things in common: chief executives who
publicly demonstrate their passion for the cause and agencies who offer
more than just great advertising. If you look at the frumps -
Sainsbury’s, Somerfield, House of Fraser, Marks & Spencer ... well, you
work it out.
So while all eyes are on AMV and Jamie Oliver (bless him, his vowels may
be all over the place but his passion’s genuine), the real impetus for
change has to come from inside Sainsbury’s. Great advertising isn’t the
beginning of the process. It’s the end.
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk