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Iceland. Caring or cynical? Time will tell.

The biggest promotional success for Iceland was  sponsoring “I’m a Celebrity” back in the day. The sponsorship went fully multi-platform, with bespoke content, behind the scenes footage, the “I’m a Celebrity” website and in-programme polls adding extra layers of engagement.

Six celebrities from the show were used for Iceland campaigns and activations. The TV brand featured in store with floor graphics, window displays and badges for  staff. Who can forget the special ‘I’m a Celebrity’ themed meal deals or the creation of a ‘Bushtucker Trial’ themed game and meal all for £5 and which sold out in less than two weeks.

They used stars from the show online and for staff events including running a Bushtucker trial with the current Strictly favourite Ashley Roberts, for Iceland store managers. Twitter drove significant extra engagement across the whole series and allowed added potential to cross-promote licensed stuff.

However, this road isn’t one the retailer has chosen this year, with new marketing director Mel Matson declaring that celebrity-driven ads are now a  “thing of the past”.

How things have changed in three years. Their 90-second animated film  ‘Rang-tan’ made in partnership with Greenpeace has been hailed as a “festive masterstroke” and amassed 4.5m views on YouTube and collected over 600,000  signatures to get the advert (which was banned for political reasons) back  onto our TV screens.. Whilst you would have to be some sort of chainsaw wielding palm oil tyrant to not agree with the sentiment of the ‘advert’, if we adopt a  cynical view for a moment and ask ourselves if this is indeed an ‘advert’ - is it an effective one?

Traditionally, an Iceland shopper would be someone shopping on a relatively tight budget with a keen eye for value.  And whilst I’m sure they’ll be delighted to learn that their favourite supermarket is ‘palm oil free,’ was this is a genuine pre-existing concern amongst their customer base? Chances are, if you live in a palm oil free home, then you are most likely shopping at Whole Foods and growing your own vegetables.

Nevertheless, Kantar Worldpanel have reported that so far this month Iceland have recorded 5% sales growth and gained 0.1% of the market as middle-class shoppers turn to the frozen food retailer. Fraser McKevitt, from Kantar,  specifically states that ‘Rang- tan’ is to thank for the uplift, adding that  “nearly 37% of Iceland’s sales come from the more affluent ABC1 social group whereas “five years ago this was less than a third.”

Whether this is simply a kneejerk reaction or part of a larger shift remains to be seen. However, what we do know is that Iceland still massively lags behind both Aldi (15.5% sales growth) and Lidl (10% sales growth) when it comes to quality perception.  Over the last three months the quality perception score has fallen 1.1 points to - 0.6, according to YouGov BrandIndex. This places Iceland 15th on a list of the UK’s 26 biggest supermarket brands and behind all its main rivals.

Mel Matson admits there’s still a lot of work to do from a marketing  perspective. “We’re not quite where Aldi and Lidl are in terms of convincing  people of our quality so yes, there’s still a lot of work to do.”  Whilst  ‘Rang-tan’ does give Iceland a lovely ethical glow, it does little to address  concerns on quality.

In contrast, Lidl’s ‘upgrade your Christmas’ campaign is heavily product-focused and is designed to demonstrate how Lidl can ‘upgrade’ people’s festive celebrations without adding to the cost. This is an authentic depiction of what Lidl represents and leans on an array of consumer insight, which states that families no longer feel they must shop at expensive grocery retailers to get the quality they want and expect at Christmas.

It would be easy to argue that Iceland’s approach is admirable, but will more supermarkets follow suit?  Values can make all the difference in strategic decisions. With the peak season of consumerism fast approaching, this ad campaign is a welcome change.  If you scroll through Twitter there seems to be one topic - the quality of  the ad campaign and the PR (mainly from folk who are in the media biz).

Iceland are getting huge traction, impressions and retweets for free. However, despite the noise it’s arguable whether the campaign will stack up and drive more revenue, sales and new customers through the doors. Today we may have reached peak interest, from now on we'll see the steam gush out. Then it’s time for a new kid on the block and Iceland will perhaps just be Iceland again.

This weekend we will be fawning over the next beautifully wrought exercise in emotional mendacity  courtesy of John Lewis. Perhaps Iceland’s first footing effort is a ‘gesture of goodwill’ rather than as a ‘marketing masterstroke’.

One thing is for sure though. Iceland must keep the campaign running now if they want to be taken seriously as a caring and activist brand. If they don't they could end up being written off as cynical, using the convesration and cause just to ramp up trading figures.

 Time will tell.
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