’Boardroom players’, our feature series interviewing the UK
business world’s big cheeses about their views on marketing, has got off
to a cracking start.
Last week Bill Cockburn, BT’s group managing director, declared he
wanted still more sweat from Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO for his money,
which will have left everyone in Marylebone Road reaching for the salt
This week Asda’s chief executive, Allan Leighton, delivers an
iconoclastic statement. ’I am a fan of wallpaper advertising,’ he
declares. ’I’m a bit of a cynic about an advertising world that gets so
wrapped up in producing very creative advertising, rather than asking if
the ad underpins the value of the product.’
Leaving aside for a moment the question, ’why should the two be mutually
exclusive?’, Leighton’s statement could be seen as merely mischievous if
it were not for his status, his success at Asda, and the chain store’s
experience with more creative advertising.
Asda has tried - some of you may remember the floating cows in a late
80s Bartle Bogle Hegarty campaign. Still more of you may recall the more
prosaic ’it ’as to be Asda’ of the early 90s. But that campaign seems
positively Derek Draper-esque compared with the old Labour values of the
current pocket-tapping ’Asda price’ campaign.
Leighton regards the upmarket campaign as a failure, not least for the
very plausible reason that it exaggerated the in-store offer. So, the
old pocket-tap was brought back, and Asda’s success is clear.
Nevertheless, to advocate wallpaper advertising is heresy - is it
We all understand Leighton’s desire to cow us into a sub-conscious
belief that Asda really is the cheapest chain around. But there’s
’underpinning the brand values’, and there’s Chinese water torture.
I’m not client-knocking. Publicis and Asda create their campaign out of
a genuine belief that this is what works best for the brand. There is
much to commend in not over-claiming, sticking to your knitting in both
tone and level of spend, and in not being pretentious.
Rick Bendel, the consistently underrated Publicis group chairman, puts
it this way: ’It is not about entertainment, it is about information and
about normalising shopping. We are advertising to the public, not to the
And yet. As Amanda Hall, who interviews both Cockburn and Leighton,
suggests, ’it is hard to believe that the same basic message about value
could not be communicated with wit or more aesthetic appeal - not just
to make the ads more fun to watch, but to make them more effective.’
Volkswagen ’lamp-post’ springs to mind.
Whatever your views, Leighton’s remarks are some of the most
refreshingly candid about advertising we’ve heard. But we have to
believe that his faith in his ’wallpaper’ ads that work is misplaced. If
they weren’t wallpaper, perhaps they would work even better.
Good luck to digital television which launches this week. Here’s a
couple of safe predictions: within a couple of years a) steps will have
been taken to standardise the technology, and b) one of the major
players will make a bid for the other.