Magazine article Marketing

McCarten: Everyone's Favourite Ingredient?

Magazine article Marketing

McCarten: Everyone's Favourite Ingredient?

Article excerpt

After losing out to rival Tesco in a series of high-profile marketing coups, Sainsbury's has recruited 'hotshot' Kevin McCarten as its new marketing director. But has he got enough retail marketing savvy to succeed, asks Julian Lee

Kevin McCarten's appointment as Sainsbury's new marketing director comes as a surprise to the retail industry, given his relative lack of experience as a retail marketer.

That Sainsbury's is in trouble on the marketing front nobody can deny. It has lost out to Tesco in a series of high-profile marketing coups such as the Metro stores, Value Lines and Clubcard.

Even the company itself admits that all is not well at Stamford Street: "The aim of the appointment is to strengthen the marketing role," says a spokesman.

Existing board marketing director Ivor Hunt is taking early retirement in March, after nearly two years in the job. His replacement, 16 years his junior, brings to mind that consummate young turk of the retail industry: Archie Norman.

At only 38 years old McCarten, who is currently Woolworths trading director, is regarded as something of a hotshot, but has he got what it takes to turn Sainsbury's marketing operation around?

"Superbright", along with "brash, forthright, and arrogant", are just some of the terms used by former colleagues to describe McCarten.

"A marketer of unqualified experience," said one McCarten fan. "He's got what it takes."

His pedigree is impressive. Hailing from the Procter & Gamble school of marketing, he worked his way up through the company to become marketing director of its UK health and personal care division.

But when it comes to retailing, McCarten is a relative novice. His first retail appointment after leaving P&G was in November 1993 as marketing director at Superdrug, where during a two-year tenure he speeded up the image change from 'discounter' to health and beauty retailer.

What's in store?

According to Woolworths, McCarten's remit as trading director ranges from entertainment and confectionery to logistics and the nebulous area of quality assurance. During his time at Woolworth's, McCarten has proved his strength in mapping out the strategy of a brand, rather than in the creative execution which he often leaves to others around him.

"He has the great skill of looking back at a brand that is waning, seeing exactly what its strengths are and building on them for the future," says one ex-P&G colleague.

This is a skill that Sainsbury's, arguably one of the best-known brands in the high street, could use as its strives to find the right marketing formula to communicate its brand message.

The company's most recent search for a new advertising tagline led it straight back to square one. Out went 'Where good food costs less' and in came 'Everyone's Favourite Ingredient', the line that was already in use for the company's celebrity recipe ads.

But the campaign has failed to lift Sainsbury's marketing share despite a hike in advertising spend from [pounds]5.1m in July to September 1994 to [pounds]11.1m in a comparable period this year (Register-MEAL).

The long relationship between Abbott Mead Vickers and Sainsbury's will undoubtedly come under scrutiny. McCarten will conduct a measured review rather than initiate an undignified scramble for the advertising account, say insiders. …

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