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Marketing Morrisons Andrew Higginson

Morrisons: ‘Customer cynicism will drive up standards in advertising’


By Jennifer Faull | Deputy Editor

October 12, 2016 | 3 min read

Morrisons chairman Andrew Higginson has said that customers will be the ultimate regulator of advertising in the grocery sector, as he addressed delegates at the Internet Advertising Bureau’s annual Engage conference today (12 October).

Morrisons' chairman believes shoppers will be the ultimate advertising standards regulator.

Morrisons' chairman believes shoppers will be the ultimate advertising standards regulator.

The topic of regulation is oft-discussed by many marketers in wake of Brexit, with the Advertising Association calling on UK government officials to support deregulation and self-regulation of the advertising industry following the vote.

But Higginson, who joined Morrisons from Tesco in 2014, said he believes that no matter what tactics are used to sway shoppers, their inherent "cynicism and smarts" will be the ultimate guide on what is acceptable.

His advice? Adhere to one simple rule: “Bring facts to the table, not opinions. And follow customers, not what the competition is doing or the media is saying. Customers will tell you if advertising is working or not.”

His thoughts, perhaps coming a little too late for beleaguered supermarkets, none the less reflect a shift in tactics that grocery retailers have quickly embraced to try and engage with shoppers. In 2014/15, as the price war with Lidl and Aldi escalated, the ‘Big Four’ (Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons], simply looked to better each other and flooded the market with triumphant claims of how cheap they were.

And complaints, inevitably, were directed at the Advertising Standards Authority in their droves with consumers baffled with the array of 'special offers' and promotions.

“What does it say about advertising that customers choose [to trust] their mates and social media, more than they do business,” said Higginson.

Of cource, price remains a key battleground but Morrisons and its rivals have unanimously stopped leaning so hard on it as a differentiator in their above-the-line advertising.

To get to that point has been no mean feat (Morrisons' decision to shake-up the marketing team and bring in a new advertising agency came within a few short months) but it has nonetheless begun to prove itself as a place for freshly made food, made locally.

Chief executive Dave Potts' most recent report to the city revealed sales were growing for the third-consecutive quarter (up 2 per cent in its second quarter, up from 0.7 per cent in the prior period).)

“Customers, their cynicism, their smarts, their choices, will drive up standards in advertising. Embrace that fact, or it will smother and suffocate you. If for no other reason that you won’t be able to get away with it,” Higginson urged.

“As digital forges a digital revolution, customers have more knowledge and power through choice that ever before.”

Marketing Morrisons Andrew Higginson

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