Sainsbury’s new marketing director signals a shift

Sainsbury’s appointment of Mark Horgan as marketing director comes at a cross roads for the supermarket and signals that it could be plotting a shift in marketing strategy.

Horgan has been named a year after predecessor Gwyn Burr took on her new role as customer service and colleague director. It also comes as the supermarket’s decade long partnership with Jamie Oliver comes to an end.

Sainsbury’s has long been riding its “universal customer appeal” strategy, which has served it well throughout the recession but it could be time for a shake up.

The supermarket has faired very well in the past year with Claire Harrison-Church, brand communications director, guiding things in the absence of a marketing director at the same time as overseeing the overhaul of Sainsbury’s own label brands.

This, on top of the fact that it took Sainsbury’s well over a year to name a replacement for Burr, and that it will be another six months yet before he actually joins the company, raises the question as to whether Sainsbury’s is planning some kind of strategy overhaul when he is finally in place.

Sainsbury’s is pitched directly in the middle of a very polarised market where Aldi, Lidl and Waitrose are enjoying the greatest growth while the big four languish in the middle not losing share, but not gaining it either.

It’s no small consideration that the supermarket also faces the challenge of developing an entirely new advertising strategy after its 11-year partnership with Jamie Oliver came to an end last month.

For 11 years the cheeky chef with a conscience has been the face of Sainsbury’s ads, as well as a hefty chunk of its other campaigns such as Feed your Family for a Fiver.

Oliver’s last outing will be the Christmas ad campaign, coincidentally just as new marketing director Horgan gets his feet under the table.

On paper, Horgan’s background as a marketer couldn’t be a better fit for a supermarket facing a challenging economic and consumer climate.

Working within MasterCard’s prepaid card division, he will have gained frontline experience with how consumers are changing their payment behaviours and relationship to spending. He’s also got classic FMCG experience through stints at both Mars and Nestlé as well as his time at the now long-gone furniture retailer MFI as brand and strategy director.

He has been credited with turning around the much-scorned furniture retailer MFI in the years he lead its UK strategy, before it ultimately fell victim to the recession in 2008 a few years after he departed.

It will be well into 2012 before we see what the man from MasterCard brings to Sainsbury’s and its rivals will be watching with a keen eye.

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