When you think of Iceland, it’s hard not to conjure up images of Kerry Katona and Peter Andre clutching shopping bags, thanks to the brand’s celebrity-driven approach to advertising in recent years.
However, it’s not a road the retailer plans to go down again anytime soon, according to new marketing director Mel Matson, who took up the role 10 months ago. She says the frozen foods brand now has a huge opportunity to establish itself as “retail’s best kept secret” and will do so by prioritising celebrity-free TV campaigns.
She tells Marketing Week: “Kerry stood us in good stead because when we used her she was really relevant in UK life, but we now feel confident to stand on our own two feet and not rely on a celebrity endorsement.
“There will be no return to Kerry or Peter. As far as I’m concerned, celebrity-driven ads are not on the cards at any point.”
Dialling up on quality
Instead, Matson, alongside ad agency Karmarama, is focusing her energy on a quality-driven message and becoming a more disruptive force in the grocery market.
In September, Iceland ran an above-the-line campaign on how it’s the only supermarket that freezes fish within hours of it being caught. She says this campaign addressed a “common misconception” among the general public.
“There’s an opportunity to agitate more with Iceland’s advertising so if that means us being more of a challenger brand or disruptor then I am happy with that. We don’t have the same advertising budget as the ‘big four’ but I think we can achieve real cut through by offering more of a cheeky personality,” she explains.
“We’re also looking to have a revolution in how we talk about our food. We need to constantly talk to people about our premium quality and focus on the surprise of them finding that out for themselves.”
This quality-driven approach is also resulting in in-store improvements, with Matson admitting Iceland still has “dated” stores within its 900-strong portfolio.
It also has the 68-store-strong Food Warehouse business, which sells Iceland frozen products in more upmarket retail locations. “This year we’ve overhauled 32 Iceland stores entirely and we want to push on from that number next year.
“Food Warehouse is also storming and gives us a new avenue for the discovery of our products. Our online business has won online supermarket of the year for two year’s running so we’re focused on making every part of the business award-winning.”
Mirroring Aldi and Lidl
Despite this work, the numbers suggest Iceland still has a long way to go in terms of addressing negative quality perceptions.
Over the last three months (since the fish ad aired), its quality perception score has fallen 1.1 points to -0.6, according to YouGov BrandIndex. This places it 15th on a list of the UK’s 26 biggest supermarket brands and behind all of its main rivals. And Matson admits there’s still a lot of work to do from a marketing perspective.
“We’re not quite where Aldi and Lidl are in terms of convincing people of our quality, so yes, there’s still a lot of work to do. What [the German discounters] have done is great but we are forging our own path.”
We’re looking to lead a revolution in how we talk about frozen food
Mel Matson, Iceland
However, even if she claims Aldi and Lidl aren’t a direct inspiration, the recent appointment of Aldi’s alcohol buying director Ed Kerrigan suggests Iceland would very much like to mirror the discounters’ journey in convincing people of its premium quality and branching out into categories such as booze. The fact Iceland’s head of food development Neil Nugent was previously at Waitrose is also telling of its aspirations.
Iceland recently launched its tongue-in-cheek Christmas campaign, which photoshops its frozen festive food items into videos of excited kids opening up presents on Christmas morning. And the campaign comes at a positive time for the brand, which has consistently grown its sales this year, according to Kantar Worldpanel’s monthly barometer.
In fact, in October Iceland’s sales grew by 2.6% – this made it the only bricks and mortar retailer other than Aldi and Lidl not to lose market share.
Matson says she’s confident despite the recent downturn in consumer confidence. She concludes: “What we saw the last time there was a downturn in consumer confidence was people trading down or turning to own-label and frozen foods.
“We’ve got an opportunity to push on and make sure people know we have a credible offering at a time when they might not be as confident about their spending power or what the future holds.”