Asda’s marketing boss on retailers’ Christmas ad efforts

Asda’s marketing chief Steve Smith gives his opinion on retailer’s Christmas ads.

Asda’s new-look marketing team will be run by Barry Williams and deputised by Harrison-Church

Speaking to Marketing Week at the Taste of London Winter event, which Asda is a sponsor of, yesterday (20 November) Smith said the Christmas quarter is turning into one of the most competitive periods for ads he can remember, making it even more difficult than usual for retailer’s to get cut-through.

According to Asda’s marketing effectiveness metrics, nine brands had campaigns that registered more than 25% awareness among the general public in October, with brands from Argos and Marks & Spencers to Aldi and Lidl running high-profile campaigns. The typical figure, said Smith, is three or four.

On Sainsbury’s

“It is a beautiful film and it is a film, I wouldn’t call it an advert. Being from America I wasn’t aware of the story and it hit me, amazing. It is such a fine line, credit to them they have just landed on the correct side of that line. You can’t take a theme like that and exploit it for commercial purposes and this is the most commercial time of the year. It deserved some backlash, but they were smart to tie it to the Royal British Legion. It’s not going to sell any product for them but it’s endearing.

“We have a debate about when to insert the brand in our ads. In our campaign we open with ‘The story of Christmas smiles with Asda’ because we thought we wouldn’t get credit for the quality if we didn’t. If you put your name up front people attach all of their pre-conceived notions and they’ll watch your ad if they love your brand and if they’re sceptical of your brand they’ll tune out. We err on the side that we should tell them because they won’t expect it from us.

“John Lewis can get away it, Sainsbury’s can get away it and they needed to. You couldn’t put Sainsbury’s at the front of that [the Christmas ad] because it would have tarnished the film aspect of it.”

On John Lewis

Smith said John Lewis’ ad was also a “beautiful film” that seemed to have taken some inspiration from children’s stores.

“I was sat watching the ad with my two daughters and they said ‘it’s Christopher Robin, the penguin will be a stuffed animal’ and it was.

“It’s a beautiful film and it works really well. But if I were John Lewis’ marketing director I’d be thinking ‘next year I’ve got to turn this on its head, do something completely different’. I know what I’d tell him to do if I was running it, but I can’t reveal that.”

On Aldi

Smith raised concerns that Aldi’s ad positioned the discounter away from its “cheeky challenger” status. While he called the retailer’s “like brands” tagline “phenomenal” he said it had made errors in its marketing before, citing its “Swap and Save” ad which was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority following a complaint from Asda.

“There is an expression in America called ‘jumping the shark’. There was a skit that a TV show did that had something to do with a shark that wasn’t funny and they had gone too far with their wackiness and we call that jumping the shark. Aldi has to be really careful about that. Where they’ve jumped the shark is, they’ve put a tag on it saying ‘Everyone is coming to us this Christmas’. That’s not a cheeky challenger, that is not humility and that surprised me.

“But it is hard to criticise them, they are growing and their marketing has been doing a great job.

On Lidl

“Lidl I’m more positive on. #LidlSurprises is really smart, the Morrisons Match & More ad was really clever, they took a shot at Sainbury’s. They’re clever, they’re doing good marketing and they are driving their quality credentials, which is what they need to do,” said Smith.

On Asda

Asda’s campaign focuses around “Christmas smiles” this year, a theme that will run throughout its festive advertising.

Smith said: “We have 12 TV adverts in the smile campaign. Everything is linked up with the same end frame, so the ‘smiles at Asda Christmas’ is everywhere, using Jahmene [Douglas, the singer] is everywhere. Then there is a wine and prosecco ad, a beef joint ad, a couple of “Extra Special” ads, a gifting ad. We did one 10-day shoot with one director in one home with one cast and we shot everything in one go. Which is very efficient, it takes a tremendous amount of planning. Then obviously we can play as prices change.

“It’s a reaction to last year where I liked what we did but it was very hard working, lots of different ads, they were utilitarian in nature. They delivered a good message and we had a good Christmas but we needed a theme and to keep working the emotional connection with our customers and that balance. This year we’re better.”

On Tesco and Morrisons he said he had “nothing” to say.


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