Editorial: A new choice

No advertising strategy can last forever.After better than a decade of centering its advertising efforts on the enthusiastic, food-obsessed personality of company pitchman Dave Nichol, Loblaw has revealed it will adopt a more 'traditional' approach in future.Of course, a continued focus...

No advertising strategy can last forever.

After better than a decade of centering its advertising efforts on the enthusiastic, food-obsessed personality of company pitchman Dave Nichol, Loblaw has revealed it will adopt a more ‘traditional’ approach in future.

Of course, a continued focus on Nichol is not an option, since the former president of Loblaw International Merchants, which handled the development and marketing of President’s Choice products, left the firm earlier this year.

But Loblaw might have tried to fit someone else into Nichol’s shoes. It is a good thing it didn’t.

Company executives rarely make effective product spokespeople, and Nichol would have been a particularly difficult act to follow. His folksy, low-brow approach, although ridiculed initially, struck a chord with consumers, who rewarded him by lining up deep at the company cash register.

Unpredictably, President’s Choice products have almost taken on the cache of specialty food items, giving them a significant advantage over their more run-of-the-mill national brand competitors.

Similarly, Loblaw’s stores have achieved a competitive point of difference setting them apart from more commonplace retailers, although most grocery chains have now launched premium-quality house brands of their own.

Nichol’s replacement at the helm of President’s Choice is Robert Chenaux, president of Loblaw Brands. A veteran Loblaw executive, Chenaux was most recently president of Intersave, the Loblaw division responsible for sourcing and distributing corporate brands. (Following Nichol’s departure, Intersave was merged with Loblaw International Merchants to form Loblaw Brands.)

In a story that appears on the front page of this issue, Chenaux declines to reveal the specifics of Loblaw’s post-Nichol ad strategy, but he does says Nichol’s flamboyant marketing style is not his style.

As well, he says he believes it would be a mistake to rebuild the retailer’s advertising around a new central spokesperson, in part because the future actions of a spokesperson can never be predicted.

Certainly, Nichol’s messy departure from Loblaw has been embarrassing for both himself and his former employer.

John Torella, a principal and senior consultant with John C. Williams Consultants, a Toronto marketing consultancy, applauds Loblaw’s decision to abandon the company spokesperson approach.

While he has praise for Nichol’s strategy, he says that ‘like most marketing concepts, there is a time when you need to reexamine and, possibly, change direction.’

Torella says that, in light of the circumstance of Nichol’s departure, Loblaw ought to consider taking the ‘emphasis off an individual and put it on the brand.’

Such a strategy, notes Torella, has the potential of being ‘broader and more encompassing.’

That, in fact, is the tack of leading house-brand competitors to President’s Choice, including Our Compliments, manufactured by Oshawa Foods.

Tim Carter, Oshawa’s vice-president of corporate affairs, says ‘we base our product formulations on extensive consumer research, rather than gourmet taste buds.’

With its personable, all-knowing gourmet chef no longer pitching for them, Loblaw will likely wind up doing the same thing.