Iceland crops up a lot in this week’s issue. It features on our
front page for its success at this week’s Marketing Society Awards, on
Adwatch for the 67% recall of its ’Feel the Deal’ advertising, and next
to this column, where its joint managing director makes a robust defence
of a controversial leaflet on GM-foods.
But the retailer deserves the column inches we’ve given it. It has
reinvented its brand, reinvigorated its business and won what all
marketers strive for: consumer trust.
Just a few years ago, it was being written off as past its sell-by-date,
and no competition for the likes of Tesco or Sainsbury’s. Its stores
were too small, its focus was frozen when everyone wanted fresh, and its
’Mum’s gone to Iceland’ ads felt as unfashionable as its brand name.But
it was marketing that came to its rescue.
Under chief executive Malcolm Walker, Iceland decided the only way it
would survive was to reinvent its brand, its retail environment, and
crucially, its relationship with customers. Iceland’s rebirth began in
January 1998, shortly after the company picked HHCL & Partners as its
new ad agency, when it asked itself, ’what exactly do we do?’
The answer was simple. Iceland provided family meals, and its target
customer was still ’mum’, but ’mum’ now meant anyone with responsibility
for putting the family meal on the table - regardless of gender, age,
class or race. So Iceland, which had previously thought of itself as
’Britain’s leading specialist frozen food retailer’, became ’The
Revolutionary Family Food Company’.
But this was more than just sticking a new label on an old business.
Iceland’s new sub-heading signalled a fundamental change in its business
strategies, ethics and communication. It had already been vocal about
genetically-modified foods, but now decided to make this a central part
of its brand positioning. It told consumers that Iceland was on their
side, and at the same time associated the retailer with natural
It sought to make shoppers feel more confident about buying their family
meals at Iceland.
Its green credentials have been part of an aggressive marketing campaign
that the retailer makes no apologies for. Walker recently said of the
anti-GM advertising: ’Everything we have done we have firstly done
because we believe in it - then we exploit the hell out of it.’
Ultimately, that is the message of successful marketing. Believe it and
then exploit it - smartly.
Iceland’s challenge now will be to continue the momentum it has built up
over the past two years, particularly given its proposed merger with
Booker.It is a worthy winner of the Marketing Society Award for
outstanding achievement, and a reminder that excellent marketing can be
the engine that propels a brand to success.