Morrisons’ contested creative account set to land with Publicis London

Morrisons is set to award Publicis London its creative business following a hotly contested review which saw the agency take on JWT, and CHI&Partners and Grey (which withdrew last November), The Drum understands. 

The review kicked off in October last year after the ailing supermarket parted ways with agency of nine years DLKW Lowe, which declined to repitch for the £73m business.

Andy Atkinson, interim group marketing director, said: “We have been impressed by Publicis London’s experience, insight and commitment to our business. We look forward to working with them on some exciting ideas for 2016."

Guy Wieynk, CEO of Publicis UK Group, commented: "Morrisons is a Great British brand, driven by a management team that has a clear vision and a deep understanding of their customers mindsets and needs. Publicis London is honoured to be selected as their agency."

DLKW Lowe’s decision to walk away from the supermarket was telling. Under its direction Morrisons invested heavily in advertising with a multimillion pound spend to sign up Ant & Dec as brand ambassadors alongside a sizeable sponsorship deal of their flagship ITV shows.

The move to scrap its ties with the celeb duo was made under the leadership of outsted former chief Dalton Phillips.

However, brand comms has arguably not been the priority for boss of 11 months David Potts, who – under mounting pressure to return to profitability – has been slow to appoint a permanent replacement for axed marketing boss Nick Collard who departed last March amid a wider management shake-up.

As the marketing team was culled, Potts instead turned attention – and budget – towards improving the in-store experience. 

The hire of a fresh agency signals a change in Potts' mindset and the imminent challenge is one which will enthuse Publicis London, having not worked with a grocer since losing the Asda business in 2007.

According to former Asda marketer and partner at consultancy Retail Remedy, Phil Dorrell, the agency’s first job will be to help Morrisons differentiate in the turbulent sector. Aldi and Lidl have stolen the ‘discounter’ crown Morrisons once wore, while Asda is pitching itself as the value retailer of choice for customers. 

“[Its] campaigns are not making any real impact,” said Dorrell. “The previous use of celebrities and sponsorship of Celebrity Jungle has cost lots and delivered little, and more annoyingly has failed to be integrated online and in-store to gain maximum cut-through. The new agency needs to focus on the uniqueness of Morrisons.” 

Internally, Morrisons prides itself on its vertical supply chain with its own farms, growers and butcheries, but this is little known by the average shopper. While it did try to communicate this through its Christmas campaign – the last piece of work from DLKW Lowe – in comparison to the celeb-filled Tesco, fast-paced Asda or emotional Sainsbury’s spots, the work fell flat.

“The problem is that it [Morrisons] doesn’t really have personality; it’s part borrowed from Ant & Dec and a little about some randomers in front of a voting table, none of which is fun,” added Dorrell. 

“If it could develop a sense of being the interesting place to shop and getting people excited to shop there for a special meal along with their full week's shop, it might just get it right. Bravery in decisions is not the issue but being creatively bold has so far been absent.”

Indeed, any change must be a drastic one. The retailer’s sales dropped 2.6 per cent, excluding fuel, in the three months to 1 November, compared with a 2.4 per cent drop in the previous three months. While Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury's are looking at similar balance sheets, all three stepped up last year to change the way they talk to consumers. Tesco revived its long-running strapline 'Every Little Helps' and took on a more humorous tone of voice in a bid to reach the masses while Asda has aligned itself to the branding strategy of parent company Walmart to push its 'value' credentials.

Morrisons' media business is currently with WPP's MEC while Tribal Worldwide, part of Omnicom, handles its digital work.

Publicis London was recently among a handful of agencies to be named one of the best agencies in the UK following The Drum's first research-led report to highlight the best operating agencies for the last year.