On Advertising: Morrisons grows into seasoned TV campaigner

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Morrisons does not make great ads. Oh no. And I think we should be clear about that from the start. This supermarket chain makes cheesy ads with second-rate celebrities and third-rate scripts. I like their breezy cheeriness, but they won't win any gongs for creativity.

Yet Morrisons has just scooped one of the most prestigious prizes in the advertising trophy cabinet: the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising's Effectiveness Grand Prix award. The thing about these awards is that, unlike all the other gongs ad agencies (and even sometimes their clients) lust after, these are about celebrating ads that actually worked. For the uninitiated, effectiveness might seem like the most basic requirement of a campaign, but it is remarkably difficult to prove that advertising works. Isolating the effect of your TV campaign from, say, the price promotion you're running, or your rival brand's decision to redesign their packaging, or the surprising weather, or the public's confidence in the economy is no easy feat.

There's a famous quote – still cited even in these digital, direct, interactive and connected times – by Lord Leverhulme, who once apocryphally remarked: "I know that half my advertising budget is wasted. I just don't know which half." So you can see why subjective views on creativity are much easier to deal with. Proving that advertising really does work is something of a holy grail for agencies desperate to retain business and for marketing directors desperate to maintain employment. And never more so: with every pound of marketing expenditure being questioned at the moment, getting a decent return on your investment – and being able to prove that – is vital.

And that's just what Morrisons has achieved. And it's done it without expensive TV campaigns that excite the creative community, without an advertising budget the size of the national deficit, and without betraying all the marketing heritage that the brand has accrued over the years. With just one simple, brilliant, idea, Morrisons turned every £1 it spent on marketing into more than £21 of new value. And it did it with a scheme called "Let's Grow".

Supermarket advertising has long been dominated by price-led messages ("we're cheapest"). What Morrisons and its agencies (Mediaedge:cia and DLKW) did was layer on to that a strategy that put the brand at the heart of the community and at the heart of current concerns over healthy eating. "Let's Grow" sprung from the supermarket's Yorkshire farming heritage. Essentially, the idea was a voucher redemption scheme that offered schools all the tools they needed to get pupils growing their own fruit and veg.

Now, there's nothing new about supermarket voucher schemes and there's not even anything new about supermarket voucher schemes that target children, but Morrisons has clearly captured the spirit of the moment. In the first year after the "Let's Grow" launch, 85 per cent of primary schools registered for the scheme, 39 million vouchers were redeemed and the campaign delivered a sales return on its marketing investment of £21.57 for every £1 it spent.

And when the latest supermarket sales stats came out last week it was clear that Morrisons was still outperforming the market, attracting almost 650,000 new households to its stores compared to this time last year.

All of this is great for Morrisons. It has a more than a 10 per cent share of the supermarket sector, fourth behind Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury. But its triumph at the Effectiveness awards is also a real boon for the advertising industry: it highlights the power that advertising has to radically transform big businesses.

The idea that advertising can be an investment with such tangible, sizeable and swift return, is quite alien in many company boardrooms. Morrisons and all the other winners of Effectiveness awards have proved the value of advertising at a time when it is being questioned as never before. The story of this campaign's success should be required reading for all company chief executives.

Best in Show: John Lewis (Adam & Eve)

John Lewis always made beautiful ads. Then the store moved its advertising business to a young ambitious advertising agency called Adam & Eve and, well, the A&E ads have been nice enough, but not as elegantly clever as in the good old days.

But with the new Christmas campaign we're back to something like the old John Lewis form. The TV ad shows children excitedly opening presents for grown-ups and revelling in the joys of a pair of men's slippers, or a coffee machine, or a laptop. Their childish pleasure is wonderfully infectious and the end line, "Remember how Christmas used to feel", underlines the message perfectly.