Supermarkets must remove the creative shackles
A view from Ian Darby

Supermarkets must remove the creative shackles

Aldi and Lidl's aside, the majority of supermarket ads are eminently forgettable. Aldi has, quite rightly, won plaudits for its charming series of TV vignettes by McCann Manchester. Lidl's press ads occasionally stand out in a sea of mediocrity. Executions that punt esoteric ranges such as diving and fishing gear certainly grab the attention amid the rival price offers.

But there are clear reasons why the bulk of this sector’s work is painfully banal. The market is so tight and competitive, with eight or nine brands clawing at the heels of the market leader, Tesco, that the retailers stick to a steady, safe formula that won’t rock the boat. The retailer/supplier relationship also militates against creativity because suppliers part-fund the ads to drive specific product sales, a system that works towards ensuring that a large proportion of print ads appear interchangeable. The situation is not helped by a seeming reluctance to invest in the more innovative newspaper ad formats.

On occasion, supermarket retailers consider more original routes for their brands. The Co-operative Food, after some dull commercials, is just starting to make strides with its agency Leo Burnett.

Bravery doesn’t always pay off, though. DLKW Lowe’s "for your Christmas" campaign for Morrisons, featuring a mother wrestling with a turkey, was a high-water mark in the category creatively but didn’t seem to drive sales. As agencies line up to pitch for that account, we’re stuck with Ant & Dec.

Now it’s Asda’s turn to roll the dice. The retailer’s decision last week to review its relationship with Saatchi & Saatchi is, at least in part, driven by the arrival of a new client, Chris McDonough. Asda may also have an eye on a static market share and some observers suggest that it needs to develop a strong positioning to challenge the rise of Sainsbury’s, whose growing share has grabbed the attention of its rivals.

It's unclear whether Asda, a muck-and-nettles Yorkshire retailer, has any desire to push creative buttons

This won’t be easy and it’s unclear whether Asda, a muck-and-nettles Yorkshire retailer in the hands of a crushingly efficient US owner, has any desire to push creative buttons. It may be able to do this, though. The "Every Day Low Prices" initiative will continue to scrap away with apparently identical rival offers, but investment in new stores and "click and collect" shopping could provide the opportunity for a more ambitious creative approach.

And Asda, along with its rivals, should take this path. As a report on creativity in advertising in a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review says: "The conservative approaches adopted in many product categories are leaving money on the table."

Asda, renowned for bargains, could take action to ensure that this money flows into its back pocket. After all, this is an approach that has worked for Aldi.