Kerry Katona may have had her problems, but she was still right for Iceland

“Do you still use Kerry Katona?” If I had a pound for every time I’ve been asked I could retire.

It’s always asked by a certain type – typically middle class and probably a Waitrose shopper. It’s not really a question. It’s more a statement of incredulity meaning: “Why use someone like her in ads? Why not a posh bird like Mylene Klass?”

Everyone thinks they are a marketing expert but I’ve wasted enough millions on TV ads that don’t work to finally speak with some authority.

The worst offenders are ad agents themselves. They say 50 per cent of advertising doesn’t work – but no one knows which 50 per cent. Looking at some, it shouldn’t be hard to guess.

When I returned to Iceland I wanted to change the agency. Since sales had been negative, whatever they were doing clearly wasn’t working. They once tried to attract more upmarket shoppers by confronting their prejudices and put forward a proposal with the headline “Shop at Iceland? – I think my cleaner does”. Jesus.

I knew who to use – Tom Reddy from Manchester. He invented “Mum’s gone to Iceland.” It ran for years, then I sacked him and brought in a big London agency. It was really expensive and produced some of our worst ads.

I had to ask Tom to work for us again. He produced “Driving home for Christmas”. We had our best Christmas ever. Soon afterwards our then marketing director sacked him again.

Now here I was inviting Tom back for a third time. But not wanting to upset too many people in my first week I conceded we should let two other agencies pitch.

Both teams consisted of three young men, two dressed like Mormons and one in a denim jacket who was of course the creative director. There was also the obligatory beautiful young woman in a suit.

30 minutes were spent on a slick presentation showing us slides of our shops (to prove they had been), then a raft of demographic data. Then came proposed ads. They made you wonder what the previous 30 minutes were about. We had singing freezers and the usual polar bears and penguins.

Then in shuffled Tom. He’s err… of mature years and overweight. Calling him scruffy would be a compliment. It was hilarious seeing the reaction of people who hadn’t met him.

Tom explained we needed a powerful relaunch. He would never normally recommend a celebrity as they, rather than the product, could become the star. Who knows, no sooner have you signed them than they get caught taking drugs or something. But he said take a risk and showed us pictures of Kerry Katona. “Who’s she?” I asked.

Former pop star, Mother of the Year twice, on the front of every popular magazine almost weekly, she has “edge”. Perfect for you, Tom said.

It’s four years since I went back and Iceland has been transformed. Sales and profits are through the roof and there is no sign of slowing. One of the reasons why is Kerry Katona. She’s professional and has a great sense of humour. She’s had her problems, but haven’t we all?

One famous financial journalist doesn’t like Iceland and when we were a public company I had to suck up to the likes of her. She speaks with authority and people listen. Once she wrote Iceland had had its day – our customers were buying their ciabatta and sun-dried tomatoes elsewhere.

She’s a snob, but she could have been an ad executive with that level of market knowledge.

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