Supermarkets need to stop talking about compelling marketing and start to deliver it

There’s been a consistent theme over recent months – namely, supermarket CEOs left red faced over embarrassing numbers promising to fight back by delivering compelling changes to their marketing. So why is nobody actually following through?

With the German discounters continuing to cause headaches to the big four, the top of the UK retail scene is a series of ups and downs at the moment.

One week, Tesco shows green shoots of recovery, the next it’s losing sales again. And it’s the same across the board, with Morrisons the latest to spring a suspect looking recovery.

Essentially, betting on sustained growth at any major supermarket right now is like predicting no executions or nudity in an episode of Game of Thrones.

To address this slide, CEOs have pledged changes to marketing ranging from ‘we will go back to basics’ to ‘we will communicate more directly to the customer.’

There’s also been strikingly similar promises by the top brass at both Morrisons and Asda to reshape their respective advertising so it no longer focuses on how cheaper it is than the supermarket down the road.

“Betting on sustained growth at any major supermarket is like predicting no executions or nudity in an episode of Game of Thrones.”

So why then are consumers still confronted by endless supermarket commercials focused on price? And campaigns from the big four that have about as much differentiation as the FIFA leadership?

If supermarkets such as Asda, Morrisons and Tesco are to stop recent sales declines long term, they must stop talking about how their marketing is going to change and start to actually deliver.

They have taken steps. Tesco has reshaped its marketing by hiring BBH and Morrisons has parted ways with half its head office staff including marketing director Nick Collard. But in the meantime the likes of Lidl, M&S and even Iceland (with its bold new Power of Frozen campaign) have surged ahead and continued to innovate with their food ads, with price often second to creative messaging.

Tellingly, Asda’s sales fall of 2.4% for the 12 weeks ending 24 May was attributed to “lower prices not sufficiently offset by increased footfall” according to Kantar Worldpanel.

If it, along with its big four rivals, is to get customers buzzing about its adverts again and returning regularly to stores, price will quickly have to become less integral to messaging while themes such as quality and personality take centre stage.