LIVE ISSUE/FOOD RETAILERS: How ’also ran’ supermarkets can fight the big four - Should retailers get a star or push value-for-money? Report by Eleanor Trickett

Once upon a time, Britain’s supermarkets were proud to stand up and shove out a load of press ads featuring lovingly shot products emblazoned with bold red capitals screaming: ’Special Offer! Buy Now While Stocks Last!’

Once upon a time, Britain’s supermarkets were proud to stand up and

shove out a load of press ads featuring lovingly shot products

emblazoned with bold red capitals screaming: ’Special Offer! Buy Now

While Stocks Last!’

That was supermarket advertising for you. But everything changed when

the ’big four’ - Tesco, Sainbury’s, Asda and Safeway - started moving

away from the rest of the pack, opening out-of-town hypermarkets and

offering more of a lifestyle element to the weekly shop. Suddenly

positioning was essential and, while the big four found their own

niches, the also-rans were left with little choice but to carry on

banging out the price message.

Not all were satisfied with this dull territory, however, and managers

started looking for other ways to stand out if they couldn’t do it by

offering extra services and details. Somerfield took a celebrity tack,

using Lesley Joseph - aka Dorien, the man eater from BBC’s Birds of a

Feather - to appeal to women who wanted to fit in a quick

value-for-money shop between making cups of tea for hunky repair


The campaign ran for three years before Joseph was axed last year in

favour of the more down-to-earth fictional heroine, Annie, who had no

time for the fripperies that the big four offered. Unfortunately, it

seems Somerfield, in turn, had little time for Annie. The full-scale

agency review which has just been announced (Campaign, last week) is

likely to spell the end of the put-upon housefrau.

In the same week, it emerged that Iceland had officially appointed HHCL

& Partners to its pounds 10 million business, eschewing the incumbent of

almost ten years, Tom Reddy Advertising.

The questions smaller supermarkets must address are how can they

establish a niche in a market dominated by the big four; and how do they

establish a point of difference?

The larger supermarkets have their own theories. Adam Leigh, the group

account director for Safeway at Bates Dorland, says: ’Iceland hasn’t

gone to HHCL to bung out a ’frozen prawns only 69p’ ad, and Somerfield

will be looking for something new as well. Iceland’s brief won’t be to

compete with the others. Its customer does a different type of shop - a

top-up shop. I applaud Iceland for picking HHCL. Iceland has a naff,

downmarket identity but it’s an innovative company and just needs to be

given some personality.’

Somerfield’s personality was tied up in the Annie campaign, and the main

message - jostling with Sainbury’s value, Safeway’s appeal to young

parents, Tesco’s marketing-led initiatives such as Metro Stores and

ClubCard and Asda’s ’pocket the difference’ - was that Somerfield was

for people who weren’t that keen on shopping.

Critics of the campaign say that Somerfield’s proposition of ’shopping

in the real world’ has missed the mark. Leigh continues: ’Research has

shown that people’s response is, ’so where else do I shop?’. Somerfield

needs a to create campaign which shows that it stands for


Some say that achieving stand-out needn’t be clouded by finding a unique

proposition for shoppers or a service no-one else supplies. Celebrity

endorsement, it seems, is one sensible answer.

Kwik Save, for example, has just unleashed a major ad campaign using the

people’s favourite entertainer, Michael Barrymore. Ian Halley, group

account director for Kwik Save at McCann-Erickson, says: ’The role of

the campaign is to make people feel less defensive about choosing Kwik

Save on price. The downside of a supermarket which sells itself on just

that is that some people don’t want to admit they shop there.’

Halley is convinced of the power of the right celebrity - and is

sceptical about the effectiveness of RPM3’s decision to create a

home-grown one for such an important brand. ’The problem with using

Annie,’ he says, ’is that she can’t really carry a campaign on her own.

It’s clearly been hard to extend the campaign and, as a result, it must

be asked if Annie is big enough for the brand.’

On the other hand, Lesley Joseph’s presence in the Somerfield ads merely

prompted the public to talk about the ’Dorien’ campaign rather than the

’Somerfield’ campaign.

It would seem that the secret of surviving in the big four-dominated

marketplace isn’t necessarily about finding the right frontperson -

established or home-grown - or about a unique type of customer

assistance. It is simply about having a coherent message that runs

through all the marketing.

There are a wealth of customers who, for one reason or another, don’t

get to the out-of-town superstores. These are the ones who are open to

the smaller brands - as long as they are consistent. ’The successful

agency has to get to know every aspect of the business; to live with

it,’ Leigh concludes. ’You have to understand what the brand is about

and produce an appropriate and flexible campaign.’

Chris Satterthwaite, a partner at HHCL, hints at some radical plans for

the Iceland brand. He says: ’Iceland is one of the great companies that

believes innovation is a way to build commercial success.’

Having said this, a straw poll of agency people shows that most of them,

when looking into the crystal ball, predict that Somerfield will have a

celebrity in position in six months’ time. ’It is a route that it would

be foolish not to look down,’ Halley comments.

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