Editorial

Dave's WorldDave Nichol's departure from The Loblaw Companies as a full-time employee marks the symbolic end of what must surely be one of the most dramatic and inspirational chapters in modern day Canadian marketing.At a time when people across the entire...

Dave’s World

Dave Nichol’s departure from The Loblaw Companies as a full-time employee marks the symbolic end of what must surely be one of the most dramatic and inspirational chapters in modern day Canadian marketing.

At a time when people across the entire spectrum of the marketing community – ad agency executives, media and services suppliers, as well as clients themselves – seem to be re-examining the first principles of marketing practice, Dave Nichol stands as incontrovertible proof that it still works.

And that when done well, on a consistent, carefully thought-out and fully integrated basis, a good marketing plan is an immovable force. One that can not only avoid being swamped by the tide of globalism, but can push it back.

Just ask the Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola companies, two of the world’s leaders in the marketing and brand-building game. In both cases, multinational muscle has meant little. Private retailer-controlled soft drink labels accounted for about 5% of the Canadian soft drink market just two years ago. This year, led by Loblaw’s President Choice colas, private brands are understood to have captured as much as 20% of the market.

Those who like to indulge in the favorite Canadian pastime of finding fault in success, point to Nichol’s control over the retail outlet as some kind of unfair advantage and a reason to temper the story of what President’s Choice brands have managed to achieve. (Quite an accomplishment, by the way. Nichol told a conference on private labelling last spring that Loblaw’s generic products have annual sales in excess of $750 million.)

Nichol has now also proven himself on one of the bloodiest of marketing battlegrounds, the beer industry. This past summer, President’s Choice Draft beer, sold throughout Ontario in stores controlled by Canada’s two big breweries, was outselling the widely advertised and much better known Miller Genuine Draft brand after only three months. Not only did Nichol prove he could play in someone else’s yard, but he also showed he could change the rules of the game. He forced the national beer companies to do something they had never wanted to do – cut prices.

Nichol has not rewritten the marketing textbook. He has simply practised it better than anyone else. Whether it was the bright and imposing signage in his stores, or the consistency in package design, or the skillful use of media (who can resist the folksy charm of his ‘Insider’s Report’ newsletter), or the investment in good product (his Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookie is made up of 100% butter and 39% chocolate chips, as opposed to a shortening base/25% chips for the national brand), Nichol has done it right.

The irony in all this is the way Nichol has positioned himself. By creating the image of a kind of populist, marketing anti-hero, he managed to build a loyal consumer following and put competitors off-guard at the same time. By pretending he was not one of them, while following the abcs of their discipline, Nichol was able to beat brand marketers at their own game before they even knew it.

Nichol’s achievements are certainly worth studying, if not celebrating, during this uncertain time when Canadian marketers are continuing to question their role and their competitiveness in a global world.