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What is £25m Waitrose really up to?

The Waitrose account, said to be worth £25m in media billings, is on the loose following BBH’s decision to resign it to take on much larger Tesco.

But Waitrose is a funny old account.

For years it was with creative duo Ken Hoggins and Chris O’Shea, in various agency guises, who, basically, provided very pretty pictures for Waitrose as it positioned itself as a prettier version of the UK supermarket crew: Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons.

Before landing at BBH it had wanted to go to Now, the agency founded by Mark Lund (now CEO of McCann in the UK) but one of the creatives involved decided to go to JWT instead (how barmy was that?). So the deal was off. The point is that Waitrose is prepared to go small.

Hoggins went to BBH and so did the account. But nothing much happened; the advertising was all a bit half-hearted. Most of the stuff was about its celeb presenters Heston Blumenthal and Delia Smith (talk about covering the market). Delia was, eventually, dumped. A couple of years ago Waitrose decided to dump its Christmas campaign too, in favour of a charity appeal. Not good news for the agency..

1207131_Mark_Price_16x9Now the Waitrose account is homeless, again, which won’t please high-profile, Havana cigar-smoking boss Mark Price (left).

But does Waitrose actually want – or think they need – an agency?

Some of London’s finest, including CHI and adam&eveDDB – are reported to be talking to Waitrose. I’m sure M&C Saatchi has been keeping the phone lines busy too.

Adam&eveDDB is the obvious home; it handles big brother John Lewis after all – to some effect. But my spies tell me that Price doesn’t want to be in the same agency as John Lewis. If he gets the top job at John Lewis one of these days, that might change.

So who knows what will happen? Waitrose likes to do its marketing thinking itself. But now it’s under the cosh too as Lidl encroaches on its patch with ‘fine’ food and wines. And its price match offer on 1000 brands against Tesco looks a bit sick and costly. Under Dave Lewis Tesco is actually cutting prices whereas predecessor Phil Clarke kept putting them up, which suited Waitrose to a tee.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Waitrose made its first port of call a big production agency and then hired someone – maybe a small agency – to paint pretty pictures. In which case Lucky Generals, which has antecedents in both Waitrose and Sainsbury’s, might find that opportunity knocks.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.
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