Coles CMO emphasises marketing's brave agenda

Simon McDowell also defends supermarket giant's low-price focus in the face of farmer backlash

The CMO of one of Australia's largest supermarket chains has defended the group's focus on reducing prices in the face of farmer backlash while also stressing the importance of courage in a modern brand strategy.

Speaking at the third annual Mumbrella 360 event in Sydney, Coles Group CMO Simon McDowell, acknowledged the ongoing battle between keeping prices low for customers, versus the pressure supermarkets place on suppliers including Australian farmers, but said the business genuinely believes its low-price policy is in the interests of both groups.

“We have to look after our customers; those Australian families whose cost of living is going up every year,” he said. “The reality is the average Aussie family is living on $55,000 a year and it’s not easy for them.

“It’s a key part of our brand to bring prices down, and we have invested hundreds and hundreds of millions into achieving this.

“We genuinely believe that by keeping prices low and selling more, we are also looking after the interests of both customers and partners.”

McDowell also used the Mumbrella event to detail Coles’ new campaign with the world’s hottest music group, One Direction, which will see it giving away 10,000 tickets to the band’s sold out Australian concert series, as well as to an exclusive Coles-only gig in Sydney. The campaign has been launched in partnership with Channel 9 and 9 Live and follows the retailer’s series of ‘Down down ’ advertising campaigns featuring Aussie rockers, Status Quo.

McDowell said the campaign is yet another step in the journey to be different and unique, and raised the question of whether other Australian brands are as ready to be as brave with their own strategies.

He also made a point that he wasn't concerned with what the adverising community thinks. About 90 per cent of Coles’ marketing is done in-house.

“We are trying to be engaging and fun, but don’t be fooled by all the sizzle – we take this seriously and pride ourselves on being brave and doing things in a compelling way,” McDowell told delegates. “A lot of thought and science goes on by Coles and our partners to communicate what we want to say. We take our business and our ambition of looking after customers very seriously.”

McDowell and the Coles executive team are in the midst of a five-year, $34bn business turnaround plan launched following the appointment of CEO, Ian McLeod. He said the supermarket giant aims to build the most famous brand in Australia, retail or otherwise.

“The Coles business under Ian’s leadership has been transformed, and there are more customers spending more money with us than ever before,” McDowell added.

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