On the face of it, the decision by Sainsbury’s marketing director,
Kevin McCarten, to appoint M&C Saatchi to handle its TV advertising
constitutes an extraordinary volte face from his position a couple of
years ago when he vowed to keep faith with Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.
’Everybody wants to know when I’m going to ditch the buggers,’ he told
Campaign. ’And it ain’t going to happen.’ But it’s not really a
Even AMV admitted this week that its latest ’value to shout about’
campaign starring John Cleese was ill-judged. Disappointing trading
results indicated consumer turn-off and staff complained that the ads
made them look gormless.
This week’s news can be traced to an event in 1996 that precipitated the
early retirement of Sainsbury’s then marketing director, Ivor Hunt, and
his replacement by the Woolworths trading director and ex-P&G man,
McCarten. In 1996, Sainsbury’s was overtaken by its arch-rival Tesco,
which was founded on the ’pile it high, sell it cheap’ principle but
evolved into a high-quality retailer. Tesco faced a squeeze by discount
stores, such as the German Aldi chain, and decided to challenge
Sainsbury’s at the top end.
Burdened by its classic ’trading’ mentality that puts margins and profit
above other goals, Sainsbury’s saw Tesco (with marketing-led initiatives
such as Metro Stores and Club Card) wrestle the title of number one
grocer away from it. Meanwhile, the ’lightening the load’ campaign
through Bates Dorland has promoted Safeway as a destination for young
families while attacking perceptions that it is expensive. And Asda’s
’pocket the difference’ has established it as the consumer champion.
While its rivals make startling progress, Sainsbury’s has lost its way,
particularly since apparently abandoning TV brand ads for a return to
price-cutting promotions and value-based advertising. The brand whose
gently persuasive advertising once made Sainsbury’s synonymous with
English middle-class life has appeared tactically muddled. Since Tesco’s
ascendancy, agencies have been circling the business.
That M&C Saatchi has been the one to emerge victorious is a credit to
its persistence and testament to its clever use of an internal project
to prove its creative and strategic worth. Like Young & Rubicam pinching
Ford from Ogilvy & Mather, and Leo Burnett this week replacing Bates
Dorland as global guardian of the Heinz brand, it has played the long
game to great effect.
AMV has created advertising that has at times been the envy of the
The usual ingredients contributed: leading-edge consumer thinking, a
relentless use of varied media and a partnership which, until now, was
strong enough to weather disagreements. But historically good creative
work will not keep another good agency out: profit is the first motive
for a client and always has been.
Stefano Hatfield is away.