Tesco has a new marketing boss in David Wood – will it also be looking for a new ad agency?

David Wood, a former European marketing at Kraft and before then a Unilever marketer, has been brought back from his current job as commercial director of Tesco in Hungary to head the embattled retailer’s UK marketing. He replaces Carolyn Bradley who’s been shuffled off into a UK brand role.

It’s been evident for some years that Tesco’s marketing was lacklustre in the extreme (it hasn’t run a proper TV campaign since 2004 when the Prunella Scales ‘Dotty’ campaign was pensioned off), choosing to rely on its Clubcard loyalty scheme and sheer size as it spent its money expanding in Eastern Europe, South Korea and the US.

Now the big question is, when will it return to the small screen and with which ad agency?

In 2006 Sir Frank Lowe persuaded Tesco’s then CEO (and one-time marketing director) Sir Terry Leahy to quit Lowe & Partners and follow him to his start-up agency The Red Brick Road. Lowe, who had done much to boost Tesco’s fortunes at the then Lowe Howard-Spink, had fallen out with Interpublic, the company he sold the Lowe agency to for many, many millions.

But Sir Frank retired last year and, in the meantime, The Red Brick Road seems to be undergoing a protracted identity crisis, not sure whether or not to rebrand itself as Ruby after its digital offering.

It won’t be lost on Wood (even in his current base in Hungary) that sparky advertising can work wonders for even the biggest retailers, more so now than ever as real winners like Adam & Eve’s campaign for John Lewis rack up millions of views on YouTube, helping to create a ‘feelgood factor’ that Tesco has been missing ever since the days of Dotty.

As much as anything, campaigns like this inspire the troops too and Tesco could do with a bit of that as well, judging by the atmosphere in its stores.

Tesco disappointed the markets with its last results, new CEO Philip Clarke issuing the company’s first profits warning in decades as he promised to invest more money in UK marketing, promotions and store investment. The company has just embarked on another round of its ‘Big Price Drop’ campaign, Clarke’s big idea which has so far proved a big flop. Everybody expects low prices at Tesco and Walmart-owned rival Asda has a more compelling price case anyway.

Advertising isn’t the whole answer of course but it’s important all the same. Will Wood entrust this much-needed commercial Viagra to TRBR? It will be given the chance to pitch no doubt, but other London agency folk, most notably WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell who’s been gagging for the Tesco account for years (even to the point of toying with backing TRBR in the first place) will be dusting off their credentials.

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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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