While the “feel-good factor” may be mysteriously eluding the electorate, it has found firm purchase in the marketing community. Advertising expenditure, already on the mend in 1993, surged an astonishing 26 per cent last year, according to Marketing Week’s exclusive survey of the top 100 advertisers. Advertisers will, rightly, grumble about the pressures of media inflation now besetting them. It cannot be denied, however, that the budget hike represents remarkable confidence in the underlying strength of the economy. And it is a confidence radiating from almost all sectors.
Whether these figures signal something else – the reversal of a long-term trend towards promotional spend – remains to be seen. True, there is some evidence for this from the US. But then again, it is no surprise to find advertisers reinforcing brand image after death-by-a-thousand-cuts during the recession. In any case, the longer-term picture looks perilously like a kaleidoscope, what with fragmenting main media and the increasing need to address “alternative” communication strategies.
Still, let’s not be churlish about the new, aggressive optimism in the air. Few better examples of this can be cited than Tesco. A couple of years ago, it looked distinctly vulnerable to discounting. But record profit figures out this week paint a different picture. It has, according to selected AGB grocery figures, overhauled Sainsbury’s market share. And while profit figures shadow those of the market leader, Tesco is arguably showing more initiative in the marketing arena. In particular, Tesco Express, the petrol retailing outlet, look promising. The Clubcard launch has also been favourably received.
Even entrepreneurial culture – languishing on a life-support system since the days of John Ashcroft, Sophie Mirman, George Davies and Gerald Ratner – is displaying new vitality. Stephen Hinchliffe may not trip off the tongue as easily as Anita Roddick, but the depth of his pockets and size of his ambition should not be underestimated. The acquisition of the Salisbury high street chain last year has been followed by a whirlwind buying spree, taking in Red or Dead, Colibri, Oakland and Contessa.
But perhaps the surest sign of change is the appointment of a female managing director at The Guardian. Which, following the appointment of its first female deputy editor, must mean quite a shake-up at the boys’ club.
Cover story, page 37; Tesco, page 9; Hinchliffe, page 23; Caroline Marland profile, page 34