PERSPECTIVE: Tesco’s ascendancy is the real reason for Sainsbury’s rethink

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 surprise.

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

surprise.



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

industry.



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.



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Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).