When Morrisons awarded its advertising contract, estimated to be worth around £30 million, to Delaney Lund Knox Warren (DLKW), no amount of PR spin could deflect from the thinking that the reason for the review was that the company wished to appoint a London agency. Indeed, the three agencies involved in the final pitch were all London-based: Delaney Lund Knox Warren (DLKW), Euro RSCG London and Leo Burnett. The supermarket’s incumbent of three years, Manchester-based BDH\\TBWA, didn’t even make the final creative proposal, despite BDH maintaining that it was in a strong position. In the end, the winner was DLKW.
A spokesperson for Morrisons denies that it was specifically looking for a London agency, but that the review out of BDH was down to a change in times for the retailer. “Essentially, we’d been with an agency for around four years and there had obviously been some massive changes to Morrisons over those years. It was the right time,” he said.
So why should a big name such as Morrisons, born of a small Bradford market stall at the end of the nineteenth century and supposedly proud of its northern roots, decide to abandon the north?
Morrisons insists it continues to have a relationship with non-London agencies, citing its relationship with Manchester-based Mediaedge:cia and Leeds-based recruitment agency, Brilliant, as proof that it will continue to work with and employ companies in its area of origin. Sir Ken Morrison has long prided himself on the running of the company on the basis of its “sound northern values”.
When announcing the review, Michael Bates, Morrisons’ marketing services director, commented that the supermarket was “an established, national brand”. Following its expansion with the £3billion takeover of Safeway in 2004, the supermarket chain initially experienced a financial loss. The figures have subsequently picked up in recent times, meaning that the chain is now on a stable platform to compete.
Although everyone has a view on the Morrisons account, few people are willing to share it.
However, Colin Offland, who has produced several adverts for Morrisons over a ten-year period, believes that Morrisons has been looking to move south for some time. “I am very proud to have been involved with Morrisons as they were a regional grown brand to be proud of,” he says. “I got the impression that they were looking for high production values, and for that people start to look outside their local area and, as time went on, it started to feel inevitable. I don’t know if it’s the best move, but they will go and search for it in the belief that to get the best they have to go down south. I wouldn’t agree with it, but I see why. It’s tragic to lose that account to down there.”
Offland believes the situation is very much a ‘grass is always greener’ scenario. “You’d love to believe that they’ll find that it’s not that great down there and come back again,” he says. “It’s such a northern brand. Hopefully they’ll find that the advertising and the service that they got up here from BDH and Poulters were as good, if not better, than what they get down there. I bet it will come back.”
The northern supermarket giant is now squaring up to the likes of ASDA and Tesco in a bid to attract the British family’s weekly shop spend by promoting an image of traditional values and affordability.
Several critics of the company have said that it underestimated the comparative values of the Morrisons and Safeway brands. While trying to merge them, it could have lost brand value in both names. BDH’s ‘More reasons to shop...’ campaign has also been criticised, some would say unfairly.
“Their biggest problem is ensuring that everyone knows what they’re about in the south,” says Edward Garner, communications director at research specialist TNS. “In the North, people have a pretty clear idea of what Morrisons is. In the North, the people would be able to say what Mr Morrison looks like, and I don’t mean Ken Morrison, I mean the embodiment of the Morrison grocer. Now I don’t think you’re going to get a clear picture in the south. I think people aren’t too sure what Morrison is. It’s the same in Scotland where Safeway used to be the leading outlet. Now, of course, it’s all Morrisons. The personality supported by advertising needs to be bolstered.
“They need to let people know what they are about. People will know what to expect when they go to a Waitrose or Sainsbury’s or ASDA, and sometimes people walking through the door are not too certain what to expect. Shopping is quite a habit in many ways.”