Emphasising ‘the John Lewis difference’: Inside the Partnership’s choice of new agency

The company’s customer directors tell Marketing Week it was Saatchi & Saatchi’s focus on differentiation, understanding of “the demands of modern retail marketing”, and its “smart, strategic, exciting” creative ideas that helped secure it the account.

JohnLewisThe John Lewis Partnership is on a mission to communicate the “distinctive John Lewis difference” to consumers, one of the key points on the agenda for new agency partner Saatchi & Saatchi, which was appointed today.

The business, which consists of the John Lewis brand as well as supermarket Waitrose, is on a “growth journey”, customer director Charlotte Lock tells Marketing Week. A crucial part of this is better communicating the Partnership’s point of difference to consumers.

“We’re really making sure we have great consumer understanding at the heart of our thinking,” she says. “We’re ensuring that our customers understand the difference.”

These points of differentiation include being partner-owned, its customer service, as well as the “inspiring” product selection on offer, she says. Part of the role of marketing is “translating” this into footfall and sales, Lock adds.

A big part of our role is to help customers be as excited as we are about the proposition of Waitrose.

Nathan Ansell, Waitrose

Waitrose customer director Nathan Ansell says Saatchi & Saatchi showed a real understanding of these unique qualities during the pitch process, which began in February and was supported by Oystercatchers, one of the reasons it was awarded the account.

“A big part of our role is to help customers be as excited as we are about the proposition of Waitrose,” he says, expressing confidence that the business’s new creative agency has the understanding, and strategic and creative ability to bring this goal to life.

He believes Saatchi & Saatchi has the ability to “lift the lid” on what makes Waitrose special, which is something the brand “should always be doing more of”.  Through the partnership with Saatchi & Saatchi, he says he wants Waitrose to do more “modern marketing” that “cuts through”.

He adds the creative agency showed a real understanding of “the demands of modern retail marketing” and an ability to work at the fast pace needed in the current environment.

Entering a new phase

Lock says another thing that stood out during the pitch process, which set Saatchi & Saatchi apart, was its “smart, strategic and really exciting” creative ideas. She says it also showed an “ambition to go on the next stage in [John Lewis Partnership’s] growth journey”.

The last year has not been plain sailing for the group, which in March reported a £243m loss for its 2022 financial year. It has insisted its transformation plan is still on track though, and in a recent interview with Marketing Week, Lock said the team was “energised” for what was to come and that it now has “the right strategy for the future”.

As well as financial challenges, intensified by inflation and the cost of living crisis, the last year has also been one of change, particularly in the customer division. Ansell joined Waitrose in November following the departure of Martin George. While Lock, who joined the business last year as pan-partnership customer director, added John Lewis customer director to her remit in February, when the role’s former holder, Claire Pointon, left the company.

The business has also revealed plans for a new pan-partnership loyalty scheme, which will launch in 2024.

A brand for all occasions

A highlight of John Lewis’s work with previous creative agency Adam&eveDDB has been its Christmas ads, with the brand’s festive work gaining public fame across the years with ads such as 2011’s ‘The Long Wait’, 2015’s ‘Man on the Moon’ and 2019’s joint Christmas campaign with Waitrose, ‘Excitable Edgar’.

Christmas 2023 will be “very special”, Lock pledges. But she emphasises the brand is not just for Christmas, one of the key messages it is keen to hit home.

After retiring its long-running tagline, ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’, last year, it introduced ‘For All of Life’s Moments’ to underline the fact it wants to be in consumers’ minds for more than just the big occasions.

As well as placing emphasis on the broader relevance of the business to consumers, the Partnership is also look to convey the “integrity” of its brands, something it believes Saatchi & Saatchi can help facilitate.

Lock says the agency’s commitment to “inclusion and social impact” made it stand out as a good cultural fit for the business.

John Lewis highlighted the agency’s work on two purpose-led campaigns – BT & EE’s ‘Hope United’ and The British Heart Foundation’s ‘This is Science’ – as examples of the type of initiatives it might aspire to.

‘This is not just an ad campaign’: John Lewis repositions with new brand promise

Waitrose has already sought to emphasise the “ethics and care” taken by itself and its partners through recent marketing efforts. Its ‘Supplier Stories’ campaign aims to connect its consumers and suppliers, while its 2022 Christmas ad also focused on supplier relationships.

Ansell says he has been “blown away” by “the integrity, and environmental and sustainability credentials of the organisation” since he joined.

Going forward “there’s an opportunity” to convey those qualities to consumers “in even more compelling, modern and dynamic way”, he states.