Store wars: essential viewing for 2017
A view from Maisie McCabe

Store wars: essential viewing for 2017

It will be fascinating to see how retailers square up against rivals on- and off-screen in the months ahead as they prepare for Brexit Britain.

As 2016 came to a close, the prevailing view among those of us in the so-called metropolitan elite was that the next 12 months had to be better than the year we’d just had. But the arrival of the Donald Trump administration on Friday and the practicalities of life outside the European Union might affect our day-to-day lives a whole lot more than the rhetoric that precipitated both votes and the emotional shock that followed. You’d have to be looking at the world through a lens brighter than a Stuart Semple canvas to think it’s going to be rosy from here on in.

The shock could be even more pronounced because things so far have rolled along OK. The high street experienced its first growth in footfall in December since 2011, as shoppers shunned retail parks and malls, according to the British Retail Consortium. And many retailers finished 2016 better than analysts expected: Tesco reported like-for-like sales growth for the second Christmas in a row; Morrisons raised its profit guidance; and Sainsbury’s surpassed expectations. Marks & Spencer attributed its best clothing figures in seven years to its Christmas ad. 

The first IPA Bellwether Report of 2017, released yesterday, shows more marketers are increasing their budgets than not but they are also more pessimistic about their own industry’s financial prospects than they have been for four years. Interestingly, it also reveals a boost in spend in "main media advertising" – up 5.1% after a 3.8% fall in the third quarter. There will be lots of sales directors keen to link that to the retail sales growth, I’m sure. I understand some of the biggest retailers returned spend to press advertising in the final months of the year. Newsworks would do well to establish a link if there is one to be found.  

If you look through the retailers’ performances in relation to their advertising creative, with the exception of M&S there is  a less obvious correlation. Leading the way among the big supermarkets that have reported so far in like-for-like growth was Morrisons, whose ads by Publicis London broke as much new ground as the bungling mariner who ended up circling the Isle of Sheppey instead of Britain back in 2010. Likewise, Tesco’s family/empty nesters have been serving it well. The key is that both retailers have a new management team focused on the basics (customer experience, stock, range). 

In contrast, H&M’s December sales came in lower than anticipated despite the company opening 422 new stores and releasing a four-minute film by Hollywood director Wes Anderson. John Lewis Partnership chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield warned last week that its staff bonus would be cut for the fourth consecutive year. H&M, John Lewis and Waitrose still have growth other retailers would trade their Mrs Claus/stop-motion puppets/diligent Trivial Pursuit player for but it’s a good reminder that Hollywood stars and PR buzz aren’t everything.

It will be interesting to see what Sainsbury’s has got planned to accompany Wieden & Kennedy’s bombastic new ad. It deserves to be part of a wider transformation of the business. 

Maisie McCabe is acting UK editor of Campaign. 
maisie.mccabe@haymarket.com 
@maisiemccabe