The Advocate - December


This month I want to advocate Jamie Oliver's favourite supermarket, or at least their latest campaign - Try Something New Today.

I want to suggest that at long last Sainsbury's has a proper brand idea around which to organise themselves and that this is paying off - big time.

You may of course diasgree.

Usual question - does it work?

First off let me apologise for the poor internationalism of this months Advocate. That said the last one was for a US campaign (VW Golf GTI) and I don't think anyone from the US joined the debate - so it is back to blightly for this festive edition.

To work ladies and gentlemen.

Sainsbury's is not a business or brand that has covered itself in glory in the recent past. Having been legendarily successful in the 1980s and early 1990s (both for the seminal print campaign and the wonderful 'ingredients' ads), in the last decade everything has seemed to go wrong for Sainsbury's and AMV.BBDO - its long serving agency.

Poor performance, poor stores, poor management, poor availability, poor CRM, and poor communications (including the account jeapordising Value to Shout About campaign) saw Sainbury's slide further and further down the list of Britain's favourite food retailers.

Sure there was a glimmer of light when Jamie turned up on the scene and on our screens but in the end all we got was brandwash. Little changed in the business and though the mockney chef injected some much needed modernity into proceedings he never gave the brand a point. Indeed Sainsbury's continued to use a meaningless brand line M&C had concocted while AMV were in the Value to Shout About dog house - Making Life Taste Better.

With no central brand idea the only thing Sainsbury's had going for it was a celebrity campaign using a celeb who was rapidly losing his appeal.

And then it all changed. Things came good for Sainsbubry's.

They sorted out their stores, they managed to have food in them most of the time and the brand started to perk up.

And AMV did the impossible - they retained the business in a competitive pitch...with Jamie.

The new ingredient was a proper brand idea (a position not a positioning) expressed in the thought - Try Something New Today.

OK its not the most elegantly crafted line, and it can appear rather arrogant and critical on first viewing but it has given Sainsbury's a point.

Or rather it has crystallised a role that at their best they have played in our lives for years - the discovery and popularisation of new foods and food combinations.

Jamie has stayed (having rescued his reputation through the fifteen project and his evangelism for better food in British schools) but he now has a role - to help us discover and try new stuff.

OK the Christmas ad is a rather overblown way to suggest that cinnamon is nice on mince pies but this isn't just, or even much, about the ads. As a proper brand idea Try Something New Today is an organising thought that guides all of their activity.

And the business results are looking rather good. Of course a considerable amount of this turnaround is down to Sainsbury's putting their house in order and winning back all the people like me they had alienated in the '90s but the brand idea and the way it is expressed across all consumer touchpoints give the brand a meaning for all of us at long last.

Sainsbury's are the UK Supermarket of the Year and Justin King (the CEO) one of the most celebrated bosses in UK retail with the share price up from £3 a year ago to £4 today.

And huge respect goes to a supermarket that uses the proper Food Standards Agency traffic light system on both their packaging and much of their print advertising.

Tesco may have a whopping great database but Sainsbury's has a point.


I think it's a great positioning.

I'll say this much, it adds much weight to the 'use celebrities in campaigns' argument (IF chosen carefully).

It's such that I believe the narrative, simply because I think Jamie would 'try something new today'. He really cares about his food..

And of course, the brand image I have of Sainsburys is of a kindly mother figure; what Jamie effectively became with Jamie's school dinners.

It also helps that it's miles away from Tesco's rather nochalent branding (though I admire that as well, but for wholly different reasons).

Posted by: Will at December 5, 2006 11:41 PM

it shouldn't work but it does. Considering how these supermarkets operate...Sainsbury's actually has a personality..

Posted by: MM at December 6, 2006 09:43 AM

Sainsburys spent the 80s and 90s drifting aimlessly. They werent as high class as Waitrose, but not as low class as Tesco. But they couldnt find the middle ground.

I think the ads are pretty good, whilst maybe not fantastic, they are by far the best Sainsburys has done in a long time.

Posted by: Rob Mortimer at December 6, 2006 09:58 AM

I'd say the other stuff they have done, that you mention, is of most importance - the store experience. They've stolen a little of Tesco attitude in terms of doing small things well.

Though I would agree with all the positive comments about what Jamie Oliver brings, and while I have nothing more than intuition for this, I reckon the Tesco campaign is starting to look and feel a little dry, and a little too price focused; Jamie Oliver looks very warm next to this.

That being said I'm not sure about how ultimately competitive 'Try Something New Today' really is, why are JS uniquely placed to deliver this?

Posted by: Paul H. Colman at December 6, 2006 11:33 AM

Good choice! Sainsbury's has been a real bugbear for me as I ahve often blogged because of the arrogance of the agency in associating something like a £2 billion rise in share value solely to the Jamie Oliver campaigns when, as you rightly, point out the imoprovement was due to many internal changes.

That said, as far as this sort of advertising has any effect, the addition of an educative/aspirational message is definitely a step forward. It's not ground-breaking and it doesn't need Jamie but to answer Paul Colman's entirely valid point, it works because they've done it before their competitors did and thus, they own the idea.

They're not just selling you stuff (M&S), they're not helping your budget (Tesco et al), they're aligning themselves with an improvement in your qulaity of life. People like that sort of thing!

Posted by: John Dodds at December 6, 2006 11:53 AM

It also helps that both Jamie and Sainsbury's have benefited from the fact that in a nation with obese children who feel guilty about their diet the conversation is moving (slowly) towards enjoying food v stuffing your face with it.

Posted by: speed at December 6, 2006 12:31 PM

Hi there - I'm the planner on Sainsbury's here at AMV so I can answer a few of the points raised above. Customers tell us that Sainsbury's is uniquely positioned to deliver on the idea because we're the only mass market supermarket that really cares about food - they wouldn't trust food ideas and tips from our bigger competitors and the smaller ones are less able to affect major change to the way real people eat. The £2bn Jamie figure referred to earlier has long been a frustration here - it was a real number and is exclusive of the effect of stores, prices, etc. but is hopelessly out of date (it is from an old IPA paper). The press won't let go of it and keep repeating it. But it rather suggests that it's all about Jamie, when in fact, as many of you have pointed out, the idea is so much bigger than Jamie, or TV ads alone, it's about changing the terms of engagement between the brand and the nation - we're not just selling stuff, we're trying to help people try new things.

Posted by: Craig Mawdsley at December 6, 2006 02:21 PM

Thanks! I think thats really interesting, especially the point about Sainsburys actually being placed to deliver that message, not just pushing as an image.

Maybe thats one aspect of why its working, because it is an integral part of the company and positioning rather than (just) some good planning.

Posted by: Rob Mortimer at December 6, 2006 02:30 PM

Hey Craig thanks for the contribution - toptastic bit of planning. APG awards ahoy!

Posted by: Richard at December 6, 2006 02:40 PM

I feel that the campaign is poorly conceived. You claim that Sainsbury's now has "a proper brand idea," but a proper brand idea is an ownable position. The fact that Jamie tells us to add cinnamon to spice up mincemeat pies isn't an ownable position. It doesn't colour the Sainsbury's brand in any meaningful way. Tesco is about value — "Every Little Helps;" M&S is about quality and ethics — "Look Behind the Label;" Waitrose is about premium ingredients. Meanwhile Sainsbury's commands us to "try something new." Does anybody see that this positioning is vacuous. More so, it isn't emotive.

In the US, Safeway adopted the tagline "Ingredients for Life." It's aspirational, evocative, and quite philosophical — it works. And when we look behind it, we find that the grocery store is indeed a source of ingredients for life — we go there for social contact, exploration, and indeed, nourishment.

If the Sainsbury's brand is to act as an heuristic for consumers, it has to have meaning; it must be emotive and it must be embodied in the shopping experience. Acting as a source of advice is good, but it says nothing of the experiential side of shopping. It makes sense that trying something new is about exploring, but has Sainsbury's built an experience around exploration? When we enter a Sainsbury's store, are we exposed to markedly different merchandise, service and stimulation than we would be in a Tesco shop? If not, then this campaign is putting lipstick on a pig. If "try something new today" is really to be a fundamental brand idea, then Sainsbury's has to move beyond the advertising paradigm to build a rich in-store experience around this idea.

Posted by: Eric Alper at December 6, 2006 10:17 PM

"I feel that the campaign is poorly conceived. You claim that Sainsbury's now has "a proper brand idea," but a proper brand idea is an ownable position. The fact that Jamie tells us to add cinnamon to spice up mincemeat pies isn't an ownable position."

I'd argue that it is an ownable proposition. It's not that Jamie tells us to do this, but more that - that food is about more than prepackaged goods, but instead, something to be experimented with. It's successful because (as Craig states), it's the only supermarket to be able to do this.

I agree that Tesco is about choice and value. Not quite so convinced that M&S have truly 'owned' ethics though...despite the interesting instore work on it, it's still not amongst the first things I think about when I'm shopping there. I agree on the notion of quality.

I think of Waitrose as offering choice, allied to quality; although the beauty of Waitrose/John Lewis is that neither have any overt branding or proposition to the consumer (barring the promise 'Never Knowingly Undersold').

"Does anybody see that this positioning is vacuous. More so, it isn't emotive."

It's not emotive because it doesn't have to be. Food shopping in itself doesn't inspire me, but potential combinations of foodstuffs do (along with good 2 for 1 deals, obviously).

I think the Safeway tagline is interesting when looked at in a US/UK planning viewpoint. 'Ingredients for Life' to me, whilst an interesting notion, appears almost too aspirational, as it is... I don't look to a supermarket to provide for me on many emotional levels - it is a resource which I need, rather than desire.

For what it's worth, Beeker states something interesting about this topic here:

"Acting as a source of advice is good, but it says nothing of the experiential side of shopping. It makes sense that trying something new is about exploring, but has Sainsbury's built an experience around exploration? When we enter a Sainsbury's store, are we exposed to markedly different merchandise, service and stimulation than we would be in a Tesco shop?"

No, but I'd argue that Sainsbury's prior brand positioning - not value to shout about, but before that - was based upon the notion (as I've stated before) of a mother figure, looking out for its consumers. Tesco, Waitrose, Morrisons.. none have attempted to do this, I feel, because they realise that Sainsbury's niche is here. Good quality food, delivered at prices which suit the market it aims at (before Jamie, I'd suggest it was predominately older consumers).

"If "try something new today" is really to be a fundamental brand idea, then Sainsbury's has to move beyond the advertising paradigm to build a rich in-store experience around this idea."

I couldn't agree more. It'll be interesting to see what they do instore.

Posted by: Will at December 7, 2006 12:38 AM

Instore is of course the trickiest part of getting the proposition right, but you have to remember that this is grocery shopping - people aren't there to be entertained and disrupted (as they perhaps are when shopping for clothes or CDs). Our tactics instore need to be subtle and aim to change individual behaviour in quite small ways to achieve a big total effect. So, even though you won't go in store and see a complete different experience, we have seen significant shifts by creating small things on shelf and in merchandising. But of course, we
can always do more.

Posted by: Craig Mawdsley at December 7, 2006 02:40 PM

How is "try something new today" any less ownable than "ingredients for life"? Both are generic to supermarkets. Anyway, does ownable really matter? Your M&S is pretty ownable but it doesn't stop Matalan doing a (probably quite successful) me-too.

The thing to try and own is not a unique positioning that no-one else can claim - they don't really exist in our ubiquitous, me-too world and looking for them always ends in USP pinhead punch-up worlds of pain - but the association in the customer's mind between the brand and the idea.

Hence, Sainsbury's will be Jamie and "try something new today" for a long time just as BT is still Its Good to Talk and BA "the world's favourite airline." Note how the last two are out of date but the ideas were so strong that the association persists

Posted by: Phil Teer at December 7, 2006 03:17 PM

Ohh Sir, yes and what about the fourth emergency service? The current incumbents may think its about being aa friend and the previous incumbents believed your should just aa ask - but some work I did this year showed that 81% of UK adults still believe the AA is the fourth emergency service.

Posted by: Richard at December 7, 2006 05:06 PM

I remember being in Sainsbury's a while ago and looked over the cashier's conveyer to see a mission statement thing on a clipboard hanging by his/her chair.

It said, and I'm being very serious, although I may be paraphrasing as it was a while ago:

"Your job today is to Make Life Taste Better for every customer."

And I just thought you poor sod - how in the hell does one go about doing that?

Posted by: Faris at December 8, 2006 11:49 AM

Try Something New Today is a great strategy.

The planners responsible should be carried shoulder-high around the agency.

Now if only the creatives could raise their game...

Posted by: Scamp at December 8, 2006 04:39 PM

Have to say I agree loudly with a lot of what has been said, especially the last comment. Great strategy with so-so advertising running in its wake.

The reason the strategy works is because the point it is making is already within the brand and within its communication (wasn't the great ingredients campaign based on the same insight) which means it is credible and resonant as well as being aspirational. Craig's right, more could be done in-store but there is enough there to make the communication and experience truthful. Full marks to the team and a kick in the ass for the top floor at 151 I'd say.

Posted by: jemster at December 12, 2006 10:28 AM

1. I really like this campaign.

2. The company results from last month are pretty staggering
> (FT 15/12/06) Justin King, chief executive, said: “The consumer dynamic is moving in the direction of fresh, quality and healthy food and the desire to trade up is particularly true in the run-up to Christmas, so we are making sure we are putting our best foot forward.” He added: “We have now delivered £1.3bn of additional sales after 18 months, which is just over halfway towards our target to grow sales by £2.5bn by March 2008.” Over the same period, market share had increased with weekly customer transactions growing by 1.5m as it had introduced better quality products, lowered prices and improved product availability and customer service. However, Mr King added that Sainsbury faced tougher sales comparatives. “We expect the market to remain highly competitive but our first-half performance gives us good momentum.” he said.

3. Jamie Oliver has gone from a flaky celebrity chef (one up from 'whatisname on big brother') to a genuine popular hero.

My sense is that 1,2,3 are related. I have a hunch for instance that Jamie Oliver's ascendency came at just the right time for Sainsbury, also improving - giving a halo of confidence, momentum and success to the whole thing.

Anyway it's Christmas and I dont have a bad word to say about this one. Mince pie anyone?

Posted by: John Grant at December 12, 2006 11:29 AM

It's great that the balance of people feel that Try Something New Today is a good idea and that planning has been at the heart of its creation (that's certainly true). I'm not as comfortable with the suggestion that planning have done their job and creatives need to raise their game (also suggested in Marketing's Adwatch column today). I don't disagree that the work could always be even better (that's why we do this job, right?), but I do disagree with placing the fault at the doors of the creatives. If anything, it's us planners who need to take the shackles off a little and be braver with it. In developing the work I prioritised effectiveness over creative ambition, keen to prove the financial effectiveness of the strategic thought and maybe have shackled the creatives a little too much along the way. So, if the creative work isn't as good as it could be, it's not the fault of the creative department, it's the fault of the whole team.

Posted by: Craig Mawdsley at December 12, 2006 01:51 PM

Bloody hell if that isn't planning coming of age I don't know what is.

Posted by: Richard at December 12, 2006 02:07 PM

Yes, good figures. And I like the sense of the strategy. I just don't like the words so much. It makes me into some cranky, contrary person who just wants to say 'No.' (And I don't want to be that person. Maybe I need some of John G's mince pies). Unless, of course Sainsbury's were to give me more of a reason. As it stands it practically asks to be disobeyed. I don't want to be told to try something new by a piece of advertising.

So the 'ownability' of the position isn't an issue I don't think, unless this lack of incentive undermines such a direct command (which I'm sure is supposed to be more a suggestion) as 'try something new.' In which case my additional contrary reponse is, 'Yeah I do. Often. Elsewhere.'

So the short answer is I'm voting in favour of the strategy. But I'm being cranky and highly subjective about the words.

Posted by: beeker at December 12, 2006 03:21 PM

Good point.

I think the problem is that the ghastly line 'every little helps' began a craze in the creative community for colloquial endlines - I'm lovin' it, chin up and the like.

(just realised that you work on I'm lovin' it - sort it out!)

And the net result is that we are loosing the skills of writing memorable and infectious lines to crystallise brand strategy.

This is a shame because it was a skill and something Clients admired and paid for - anyone can write a colloquial line - culture has writtenthem for us but it takes talent to write a proper line with rhyme, balance, aliteration, assonance or rhytmn - or a combination of these.

At least I'm lovin' it will be welded to the McDonalds brand by sheer repetition (as was every little helps) but I worry about try something new today.

I'm sure Craig won't want to comment on this (he has done pretty well so far dealing with us marching all over his brand land) but one more crack at writing the perfect line for such a good strategy might have been worthwhile. Hey maybe it should have come from him - I'm finding that great lines are coming from planners and creatives equally and collectively at the moment at our little place.

Posted by: Richard at December 12, 2006 03:36 PM

Hi Craig, I know what you mean by prioritising effectiveness over creative ambition, but who's to say that more ambition would have brought more effectiveness? Is the issue more about internal management than brand control?

However I would agree that the idea should be seeded (through more straightforward communications) ahead of expressing it in ever more creative ways. Once the idea is embedded you should reward the consumer more through the communication.

A little like a pilot guiding the campaign through the shallows (and any other such dodgy strategic anolgies)... good stuff so far.

Posted by: jemster at December 13, 2006 12:28 PM

I think that the campaign has done wonders for the brand. The Jamie Oliver brand that is. I make this comment because at the time of one of the first 'Try Something new Today' ads where Jamie encouraged us to try grating nutmeg on bolognaise Adsa reported an 126% rise in nutmeg sales
and have made similar claims for other products featured in the campaign. I don’t imagine this is a unique phenomenon but for me it highlights a weakness in the positioning. It focuses too heavily on generic food products that can be bought anywhere and not on the service of the supermarket or added value products.

Posted by: Hannah at December 13, 2006 03:34 PM

BY prioritising effectiveness, I think I really meant predictability - stick with things we know are pretty sure to work well rather than take a risk on something that may perform amazingly, but also runs the risk of not working at all. Having spent a year or two working out the parameters of the idea we have more confidence in a wider range of potential creative solutions working. As for Asda sales of nutmeg increasing, that's precisely why this idea works well for Sainsbury's - it's generous, open and inclusive, making it more useful for customers, rather than giving them less useful recipes that were more ownable for Sainsbury's. Customer need comes first. Brand responsible benefits as a result. I'm sure people 'Just did it' wearing Adidas, but it doesn't seem to have done Nike any harm.

Posted by: Craig Mawdsley at December 14, 2006 12:42 PM

One Strategy Cow has been duly despatched to Craig at AMV for an idea that rather universally is viewed as brilliant. Any chance of a photo of you and the cow Craig?

Posted by: Richard at December 15, 2006 05:58 PM

While the idea is viewed as brilliant by planners, it still seems like a rather generic strategy that consumers won't buy into with incremental changes in-store. If "try something new" is to be a genuine 'brand idea,' Sainsbury's has to reengineer the experience around it. A full analysis on the importance of the experiential side of buying in relation to Sainsbury's can be found at

Posted by: Eric at December 17, 2006 08:33 PM

Err, I thought it was all a bit bit more cynical than all this claims.
Problem: We need to increase revenue by xx%. We can't guarantee achieving that by taking customers off our competitors.
Solution: Encourage the customers we do have to put at least one more item in their trolley every time they visit.

Clunky endline, strategy showing, kerching.

Posted by: David B at December 19, 2006 03:14 PM