Justin King: ‘My marketing legacy is incredibly strong advertising that proves we understand the customer’

Advertising Week Europe 2014: Sainsbury’s outgoing CEO Justin King claims Sainsbury’s marketing under his tenure has been “incredibly strong” because the supermarket reflected the challenges facing its customers.

Justin King: ‘My marketing legacy is incredibly strong advertising that proves we understand the customer’

Speaking during a panel discussion at Ad Week Europe, King admitted that the advertising put out by Sainsbury’s when he joined 10 years ago was “not good enough”. However, King told Marketing Week after the event that under his stewardship the supermarket shifted to a strategy focusing on ways it could help its customers and show it understands them that will be his enduring legacy after he steps down in July. He is being replaced by chief commercial officer Mike Coupe.

“Our advertising, which I believe has been incredibly strong over my tenure, has worked because it absolutely understands our customers.

“My marketing legacy has been absolutely understanding the changing nature of the challenges for consumers and talking to them in a way that shows we do,” he said.

He cited the example of the “Try something new today” strapline, the first Sainsbury’s employed after he took over, which he says spoke to two big things: that a lot of people had stopped shopping with Sainsbury’s and it wanted them to give it another go and second to try out new things.

The latest strapline, “Live well for less”, is about demonstrating that Sainsbury’s “understands the challenges of the weekly shopping basket” but also that “people aren’t prepared to give up on other things that are important to them, including their values” said King.

“It’s about demonstrating that we understand the challenges of the weekly shopping basket and making it add up. That shows our customers we are on their side and that’s our job, to be on their side,” he says.

He believes that message is important now more than ever, despite Sainsbury’s posting its first sales decline in 36 quarters. He admitted during the panel discussion that while the sales drop was a “culture shock” it was not a “business shock” and does not mean anything fundamental in Sainsbury’s strategy or communication needs to change.

“People got so used to the fact we were just going to ship up with another quarter of growth that to have a quarter of decline was a shock to the system. The challenge was ensuring that people didn’t see that as something fundamental had to change in the business. We will keep doing the right things for customers that we have been doing for the last number of years and that will continue to build great results in the future,” he said.