Jamie Oliver – the ingredient brand that became the whole meal

July 14, 2011

So farewell, Sainsbury brand ambassador Jamie Oliver. You were the exception that proves the rule – the celebrity endorser untouched by scandal or degrading personal conduct. The ultimate ingredient brand that spiced up Sainsbury’s fare without overcooking it.

Oliver’s uncompromising stand on food and animal welfare gave Sainsbury’s brand an unimpeachable wholesomeness at a time when its reputation and performance were being winded in the solar plexus by Tesco and Asda. Like all such felicitious relationships, an element of luck was involved. Right at the beginning of his tenure in 2004, chief executive Justin King was advised to drop Oliver from the advertising (agency, AMV BBDO), on the grounds that his reputation was overexposed and past its sell-by date. How wrong that judgement was, and how wise King to ignore it. One year later, Oliver was leading the charge as the great white knight of children’s healthy nutrition in the School Dinners TV series.

There was, of course, rather more to the success of the 11-year marriage than Jamie’s teflon-coated moral demeanour. In truth Oliver’s crusading fervour could be very trying; several times, he seems to have entirely forgotten who was paying £1m a year into his bank account for services rendered.

Five years ago, King must have been sorely tempted to fire Oliver when he condemned parents for putting junk food (for which read typical Sainsbury products) into children’s lunchboxes. Two years later, Oliver drew even closer to the line when he very publicly condemned Sainsbury’s refusal to take part in a television debate on battery-farmed chickens during his programme Jamie’s Fowl Dinners.

To the credit of both parties they twice pulled back from the brink, rightly judging the overall benefits of the relationship to be more important than the occasional tiff.

However wayward Oliver can be, it’s worth reflecting for a minute on what he is not: Marco Pierre White. MPW epitomises the once great chef whose celebrity has fallen on hard times. Seemingly, no brand endorsement is anathema –  Knorr and Bernard Matthews spring to mind – so long as it fends off the next alimony demand.

With Oliver, the problem is the polar opposite. His brand value has waxed to the extent that it now threatens to eclipse that of the product he is endorsing. Analysts were quick to point out that Oliver’s latest book – 30 Minute Meals, the fastest selling non-fiction book of all time – played a major role in boosting Sainsbury sales by over 10% last Christmas. No doubt, but the ingredient has now become the meal and it’s time to move on – for both parties.

None of this detracts from the Oliver/Sainsbury partnership being one of the most successful endorsement relationships of all time. As a brand ambassador only Gary Lineker – who began fronting Walkers ads in 1995 and continues to do so to this day – bears comparison.


I’m dreaming of a John Lewis Christmas

November 14, 2010

Christmas is terribly important. And I am not talking about the Season of Cheer and Goodwill to All Men. Oh no, this is something much more fundamental: the rush to get punters into the shops with their wallets open for a last hurrah spending fest.

Up to 25% of UK retailers’ annual business is generated in the narrow period from the Christmas run-up to the end of January. And this year could well be a bonanza. Retail expert Verdict reckons it’s going to be the best time to pluck the goose since 2007, if only because a massive hike in VAT will make all of us feel much poorer by the end of January. Verdict is not alone in this opinion.

So, why do retailers saturate television air-time with so much boring, formulaic, rent-a-celeb advertising that largely fails in its primary objective of distinguishing one brand from another? With so much at stake, you’d think they’d try a little harder than throw lots of money at a small idea with big production values.

Tesco received a lot of stick for its feeble Amanda Holden vehicle. Admittedly the Belcher/Belle Chère gag isn’t that funny, but it’s a smidgin more memorable than Peter and Danii not putting a foot wrong over at M&S; Hester and Delia mouthing off at Waitrose; or the lovely Coleen prancing about like a demented fairy in the Littlewoods Christmas mansion. If you’re looking for meaningful, branded, celebrity, there’s still nothing to beat Jamie at Sainsbury’s. But that’s not saying much these days. Who wants to watch him doling out another stuffed turkey – even if it is in Halton Gill, Yorkshire’s prettiest hamlet?

One or two retailers have taken the hint and steered away from celeb culture. Asda has focused on its suppliers with a well-shot cameo of Young Farmer and Farmer of the Year Adrian Ivory and his beautiful Asda-bound Charolais. Pity he’s so wooden speaking to camera. Morrisons has been trying to teach kids the nutritional value of brussels sprouts; meagre fare – good luck to them with that one. Boots has injected a little more personality into its long-serving ‘Here Come the Girls’ theme with some slice of life stuff from five comediennes. And there’s the twinkle of an idea in Argos’s ‘Crooner’ – extinguished the moment Bing picks up the microphone and attempts to ‘update’ a White Christmas. Dream on. No amount of “Argosing” can improve on a classic; and any way, Volkswagen did it so much better with Gene Kelly Singin’ in the Rain.

The big present at the bottom of the tree must surely go to John Lewis’ Crimble effort, which just manages to veer clear of the saccharine, while reminding its audience – now here’s a lovely touch – that Christmas is as much about giving as taking. There’s even an oh-so-tasteful nod to celeb culture in there: Critics Choice 2010 BRITT Award winner Ellie Goulding backs the ad with a singalong rendition of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’.

Shame on the rest of the field for allowing that johnny-come-lately to TV advertising, John Lewis, to upstage them.


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