Asda Owen appointment rings the changes

More musical chairs in the grocery sector. Although at a lower level than those explored in my Marketing Week column this week, they are connected to the same phenomenon: the need for change.

Mark Sinnock, Asda’s marketing director, has mysteriously quit after only 15 months in the job and been replaced by director of marketing strategy Jon Owen.

To outward appearances, Sinnock was a fish out of water in the hermetic world of supermarket senior management. Rather than working up from the ranks, he was imported directly from Asda’s then advertising agency, Fallon, where he was chief strategy officer. On closer inspection, however, there were some uncanny echoes in his career move to that made by his mentor and boss, Rick Bendel, who currently rejoices in the title of chief marketing director.

Bendel: Like Sinnock, a former adman

For years, Bendel himself had been an adman – one of whose principal concerns was nurturing and safeguarding the invaluable Asda account (it spends £70m a year in today’s terms). When, after reaching the top of the greasy pole at Publicis Worldwide, his luck ran out in the agency world, he was able to make an effortless transition to the client side – as marketing director of Asda. By a further curious irony, Bendel, having left Publicis, promptly fired his former agency and transfered the Asda account to Fallon; in a similar fashion Fallon lost the business to its sister SSF agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, when Sinnock himself went client side.

The Sinnock hiring was part of an elaborate empire-building exercise in the marketing department whose welter of titles has left outsiders bewildered at to what exactly everyone does. Sinnock reported directly to an elevated Bendel, and was responsible for “developing the marketing and customer strategy across the breadth of Asda’s marketing function,” whatever that means precisely. Alongside him was Katherine Paterson, Asda’s marketing director for communications. Then, reporting to Paterson, was head of brand marketing – and former McCain marketing director – Simon Eyles.

One thing transparently clear from the title verbiage is that Sinnock was brought in to simplify Asda’s complex marketing problems. It’s equally clear that the once-favourite has failed in his task, or perhaps been scapegoated for a collective failure. The new boy, Owen, is of more traditional stock, having joined Asda as head of research in 2005. He will combine responsibility for strategy, advertising, insight and pricing.

It’s hard to avoid linking his appointment with chief executive Andy Bond’s move upstairs at Asda and the arrival of a new ceo, Andy Clarke – Asda’s former chief operating officer. In May Asda revealed a slump in its like-for-like figures, which were down 0.3% in the first three months of the year. It marks the first time they have gone into reverse since 2006. Asda is desperate to shed its image as a recession-driven, promotion-mad price-slasher and has returned to its traditional strategy of everyday low pricing. It is claimed that Owen masterminded the recent Asda Price Guarantee initiative. Certainly his appointment underlines a shift towards greater simplicity and a reassertion of the tried and tested in Asda’s marketing strategy.

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One Response to Asda Owen appointment rings the changes

  1. You should post more often. Great read, also like the look of the blog.

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