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Why Has Supermarket Advertising Put The Focus on Cooking?

The stock and trade of supermarkets has always been food, but in the past, the marketing teams behind the supermarket giants have rarely put their focus on it. Instead, they’ve tended to prioritise deals and value, with Tesco’s ‘Every Little Helps’ and ASDA’s ‘pocket tap’ ads being among some of the most famous in this sub-genre. Now though, the tables have turned and both Sainsbury’s and Tesco are running high-profile campaigns based around cooking and the ingredients needed to make extravagant dishes. In this article, mporium looks at how and why this has changed.

How Has Supermarket Advertising Changed?

In the last few months, Tesco and Sainsbury’s have unveiled major new campaigns centered around cooking. Tesco has launched Food Love Stories, which features a range of everyday people talking about how they fit unique and personal dishes into their regular lives. A landing page on the Tesco website shows these stories off and offers the recipes for users to cook them – along, of course, with a link to buy the ingredients from Tesco. Sainsbury’s, meanwhile, has locked into the joy of cooking with its Food Dancing campaign, which also highlights dishes customers can cook and the ingredients necessary to create them.

In both cases, the driving force behind the ideas has been to put the focus on the customer via the food. Speaking to Ad Age, Sophie Bodoh, creative director at W&K, who created the Sainsbury’s campaign said: “Our starting point was Sainsbury’s existing tagline – live well for less. We wanted to imbue that with more meaning and shine a light on people who are already living well, rather than telling them what to do. So we first focused on that small moment where you’re preparing food and you do a little dance in your kitchen.” Added Jason Tarry, chief product officer at Tesco: “[This campaign] puts our fantastic food centre stage and we hope to inspire our customers with delicious meals whatever the occasion.”

Why Has This Change Happened?

The supermarket landscape has changed significantly over the last few years. Thanks to the success of stores such as Aldi and Lidl, the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury’s have been faced with a challenge: do they try to compete with the budget shops or scale up and position themselves as more up-scale brands in line with the likes of Marks and Spencer and Waitrose? As Aldi and Lidl’s entire business is based around economy, it’s much easier for Tesco and Sainsbury’s to punch above their weight and move in line with Waitrose than it is for them to punch down, so that’s what they’ve done.

It’s a clever move in more ways than one, because in an age where The Great British Bake-Off and other food-related shows dominate TV schedules, Food Love Stories and Food Dancing tap into the aspirational element of food. What we eat is now seen as a status symbol: our ability to cook appetising, inventive and above all healthy food speaks to who we are. We really are what we eat! By giving us recipes to create, Tesco and Sainsbury’s are not only showing that they understand this trend, but also highlighting that they are the place to buy all the ingredients from. Don’t shop around, these campaigns say, buy everything you need for a truly great meal from one shop: us.  

Meanwhile, on a more pragmatic level, it’s getting ever more difficult for supermarkets to win the Price Match war. This isn’t just because of competition from Lidl and Aldi, but also because of financial pressures: it’s simply becoming more expensive for supermarkets to promise the cheapest baskets. “What we have seen, which is a change, is that in the first half of this year the costs of Brand Guarantee are increasing as promotional activity increases,” Tesco CEO Dave Lewis said. “We think it’s linked to cost price increases that bands and manufactures are bringing to the market place and we’ll have to think about whether we adjust it after the Christmas period.”

The shift in focus, therefore, has been critical. By changing their approach to advertising, Tesco and Sainsbury’s have been able to tap into a trend, while solving a logistical issue. But it shouldn’t end there. There are other, even more significant ways, to enhance a supermarket’s focus on food.

Why Has Supermarket Advertising Put the Focus on Cooking? | mporium

What Can Be Done to Enhance This Approach?

Food is something we’re always thinking about. Whether it’s working out what to have for lunch, looking for a snack to get us through the afternoon, or getting ready to pick up items for dinner in the evening, food is an integral part of our everyday lives. Thinking about it digitally, this means there are endless micro-moments around food, and therefore endless opportunities for brands and supermarkets to get involved and seize upon those micro-moments. But how can they do this?

The prominence of food and cooking shows on television means that there are even more micro moments available. Thanks to second screening, whether it’s The Great British Bake-Off, MasterChef, Sunday Brunch or anything on the Good Food Channel, viewers can be triggered to look for a particular item of food when watching the show, and brands looking to engage those viewers need to make sure they’re in a position to do so.

As we’ve explored previously, it’s possible to plan out reactive marketing to capture this interest, but it’s difficult and costly. Even in situations where such things aren’t problems, understanding what’s piqued audience interest isn’t always straightforward. For example, Kibbeh was made in an episode of Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast in January 2017. This is a Levantine dish that doesn’t have especially high awareness outside of the areas it’s native to. However, the mention on the show was enough to create a significant spike that brands couldn’t have predicted on their own, but could have capitalised on, had they had the right tools.

Why Has Supermarket Advertising Put the Focus on Cooking? | mporium


The switch from money-saving to cooking in supermarket advertising is a symptom of the culture we’re living in. Cooking is so significant in our lives that it makes sense for the major supermarkets to find a way to tap into it – but there’s much more they could do. By aligning their approach to these campaigns with micro-moments, they can ensure they’re always there for their customers in the moments they need them and this will, in turn, give them the best chance of maximising revenue.

What do you think of the new shift to cooking in supermarket advertising? Tweet us @mporiumgroup to let us know your thoughts.

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