Brand Jamie Oliver put Sainsbury’s in the shadows – so it’s the right time to try something new
When I began writing about retail in 2004, one of the stories I found myself chasing was whether Sainsbury’s would drop Jamie Oliver from its ads. At the time it seemed inevitable; the celebrity chef was increasingly overexposed and his association was not believed to be paying off.
Why would the struggling retailer fork out £1m-plus for a celebrity on the wane?
Even the supermarket’s new boss, Justin King, spoke in past-tense when he answered my continuous pestering about Oliver, saying he ‘did a great job’.
But what a difference a year made. In 2005, Oliver was transformed from annoying mockney chef to the white knight of kids’ nutrition thanks to his School Dinners TV series.
So, while news of the ‘amicable’ split after 11 years together might be seen as a great loss by some, to me it’s about time – and the right decision for both brands.
An association and endorsement of a major corporate brand hardly helps to reinforce Jamie Oliver’s increasingly campaigning modus operandi. Sainsbury’s is a pretty well-respected retailer in the eyes of consumers, but nonetheless most would look at the relationship and see a hefty pay check going into Oliver’s back pocket.
And for Sainsbury’s? On one hand you have the face of ethical, quality, healthy food representing your brand in beautifully crafted TV ads. However, when your celebrity face is actually a brand himself, and arguably a more recognised and empathetic one at that, there is a danger that your own message is overshadowed by Brand Oliver.
Oliver simply became too big – and stood for too much in his own right – for Sainsbury’s values to remain at the forefront of its advertising while he fronted them.
One school of thought was that the revival of Sainsbury’s was not based on building the brand from the inside out, but instead from Jamie Oliver-in.
Paying tribute, King has described the partnership as ‘one of the most successful and mutually rewarding’.
The facts speak for themselves. Both Oliver and Sainsbury’s have seen their brand value soar in the past seven years, with the supermarket returning to healthy profits after a dramatic fall into the red in 2004, and the chef making a name for himself the world over.
And it was Oliver who illustrated the celeb effect way before Waitrose’s Heston and Delia were on the scene, sending sales of ingredients, from nutmeg to asparagus, through the roof.
The chef will keep working with the supermarket until Christmas, no doubt going out with a bang in a grand finale ad campaign.
As a supermarket geek I can’t wait to see what’s planned – and how a ‘Goodbye Jamie’ campaign might impact the fierce Christmas grocery battleground (traditionally where Sainsbury’s often outdoes its rivals).
And perhaps Jules Oliver can at last shop in peace at her favoured Waitrose without fear of being papped.