OPINION: Mills on ... Waitrose

Call me a worry-wart, but advertisers that hold press conferences

of the old-fashioned kind (hacks, booze, dignitaries, goodie-bags, etc)

to announce their 'new multimillion-pound, exciting advertising

campaign, blah, blah, blah' always seem to set themselves up for a

pratfall. Why they think the media should be interested in what is,

after all, just another ad defeats me. And if they are, then, as Marks &

Spencer demonstrated last year, Sod's Law comes into play. And so it was

that I looked at an invitation from Waitrose last week with more than

passing interest.

I'm sure they won't thank me for the comparison but - apart from holding

press conferences to launch their new ads - there are a lot of parallels

between M&S and Waitrose. Both are paternalistic organisations, often

insular but with a reputation for caring for their staff; both are

beloved of the county and affluent suburban sets; both care about the

quality of their products; both are perceived as being uncompetitive on

price with the likes of Asda and Tesco; both eschew promotions and

reward cards for what-you-see-is-what-you-get retailing; and both have

only recently taken to advertising.

I suspect that is as far as Waitrose hopes the parallels go. Its agency,

Banks Hoggins O'Shea/FCB, will echo those sentiments. Unlike Rainey

Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, however, I can see no reason why it should be


What we have here are four lovely TV ads. They mark Waitrose's debut on

the medium, coming some four years or so after introducing print and


Each is a joy to watch. None is controversial - at least in the sense

that the naked, size-16 woman put M&S on the back foot at a time when

just through the act of advertising it was trying to demonstrate that it

was going on the front foot. And together they communicate a clear and

sensible message: Waitrose cares deeply about the quality of its food

and it's not nearly as expensive as you might think.

They do this through the simple device of showing the provenance of the

goods Waitrose stocks. One ad shows an Icelandic trawler returning to

port. 'We never, ever buy fish unless it achieves at least eight out of

ten on the Torry Institute's scale of freshness and quality,' the

voiceover says. (I haven't a clue what the Torry Insititute is, but it

sounds very impressive.) Another ad shows the sun rising over a dairy

farm and makes the point that Waitrose knows every one of the 85 farms

that supply it with all its milk. You probably get the idea by now. Each

of the ads ends with the line 'Quality food, honestly priced', and a

caption with the price of the featured product - clearly a price that

can be changed if necessary.

The ads are unusual in that they combine a branding or positioning

statement with price information.

I should also add that the executions feature some surprising music.

Convention has it that ads that wish to demonstrate purity, quality and

wholesomeness - especially when it comes to food - use classical music.

A bit of Elgar or, if the client's a real dullard, that old faithful,

Grieg's Morning. Instead, we have music as varied as (Sittin' on) the

Dock of a Bay, UB40's Red Red Wine and Rufus Thomas doing that Stax

classic Walkin' the Dog. It's a neat way of dispelling any notions

consumers might have that Waitrose is a bit frumpy.

While its major rivals would no doubt claim to care equally about their

food, their ads (with the exception of Asda, which is all about

promotion and price) are vehicles for TV chefs or 'characters' such as

Dot. But the Waitrose ads leave no doubt about the hero: the food. And

in that, they're absolutely true to the proposition.

Dead cert for a Pencil? A gong of some description would be nitce.

Will it work? Surbiton and Surrey woman will love them.

What would the chairman's wife say? No Jamie, but lots of pukka tukka

product shots.

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