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Leo covers management and leadership issues, business trends and corporate strategy. He is a former senior business writer at The Bulletin and a former host of The Business Hour on 3AW.

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‘When it comes to marketing, I’ve lost the plot’: Dick Smith sends out an SOS for the next Singo

Published 07 August 2013 12:01, Updated 29 November 2013 09:57

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‘When it comes to marketing, I’ve lost the plot’: Dick Smith sends out an SOS for the next Singo

Dick Smith wants to get the message across to Aussies that they’ll ‘feel better’ if they support their country. Photo: Getty Images

He’s a wealthy entrepreneur, adventurer and philanthropist, but Dick Smith says he is no marketing man. Well, not any more. “I’m clearly past it now,” he says. “When it comes to marketing, I’ve lost the plot.”

With his beloved Dick Smith Foods feeling the pressure of savage discounting by the major supermarkets – often to the benefit of foreign-owned brands – Smith is on the lookout for a fresh marketing talent that can come up with a campaign to make buying Australian, and especially Dick Smith Foods, fashionable.

Smith has placed a full-page advertisement in the August 9 issue of advertising industry magazine AdNews, which is headed: “Wanted by Dick Smith. Another Neville Corbett or John Singleton.”

Corbett was the advertising man who created the famous nerdy Dick Smith logo for Dick Smith Electronics in the 1960s; Singleton created the advertising campaign that successfully launched Smith’s Australian Geographic magazine in 1986. Smith sold out of both businesses – the basis of his fortune – and now he wants to sign up a successor to Corbett and Singleton before Dick Smith Foods cops more of a beating from the supermarket giants.

Dick Smith is keen to give the current ad campaign for Dick Smith Foods a makeover.

Smith, a master self-publicist, is not quite the marketing innocent he presents himself to be, but the impetus for Smith’s SOS is real enough. Smith says he wants to sign up a “young Aussie” advertising or marketing talent who can create “something a bit different, something out of the box”. But the price has to be right.

“There are any number of advertising agencies that could come up with a million-dollar campaign. I’m looking for something out of the square – at very little cost; a marketing idea that gets people thinking, ‘I need to have one of these Aussie products in my pantry’,” Smith tells BRW.

In particular, it’s the failure of his favourite product in Dick Smith Foods’ line-up of a dozen or so products, OzEsauce, that has prompted the search for a marketing saviour.

Launched a year ago in response to Heinz moving its tomato sauce operations to New Zealand, Smith says the sauce is “the best-tasting sauce in the world”, but with just 1.6 per cent of the market, it’s also been an “enormous flop”.

“I’m incredibly disappointed. It’s definitely our best product; it’s a beautiful sauce. I know why it’s failing – people can’t find it. People say it’s not there [in the supermarkets], but it is there, you’d just have to spend 10 minutes to find it,” he says.

Love-hate relationship

Like many small suppliers to the supermarkets – Dick Smith food lines are stocked by Coles, Woolworths and IGA – Smith has a love-hate relationship with the supermarkets. He needs their selling power but baulks at pressure to slash margins and discount his products. The result, he says, is poor shelf placement, higher prices and low sales.

OzEsauce sells for about 30¢ more than sauces from US-owned competitors Heinz and MasterFoods. OzEsauce’s market share is worth annual sales of $1.4 million, compared to the 75 per cent market share for Heinz and MasterFoods, or $68 million a year, according to figures supplied by Smith.

Smith got a scare when Coles told him that it was not selling enough of OzEsauce to justify its continued presence on its shelves. He subsequently won a reprieve, but says “once you get products being dumped, the writing’s on the wall”.

Smith started Dick Smith Foods in 1999 with the aim of saving Australian jobs in the food manufacturing sector and supporting local farmers. The profits of the business are donated to various charities. Since 1999, Dick Smith Foods has donated $5.1 million to charity.

Smith says the business is “commercially viable”, but he admits to hoping that providing Australian-owned and manufactured products would have created even more support from consumers. (Dick Smith Foods’ most successful product is its cereal, which has a 2 per cent market share.)

Looking for ideas ‘out of left field’

“People stop me on the street and tell me they support Dick Smith Foods and Australian farmers, but their decision often comes down to price, and our products are more expensive,” he says.

“I need to get the message out that, look, you’ll feel better if you support our country. I’d like to create a bit of brand snobbery around buying an Australian product that is more expensive.

“We need to get a campaign out there that encourages just one in 20 Aussie families to support our products, who feel it’s important to support Aussie products and Aussie farmers.”

Smith says it would be good to attract pro bono support from an advertising agency, but ultimately he wants a campaign that is effective and enables Dick Smith Foods “to remain viable”.

“What I really want is a fantastic idea out of left field. This is such a good story, I want someone who can tell it. Heinz and MasterFoods are astute marketers. I want us to be as astute.”

If you’re an advertising guru in the making, contact Dick Smith at: dick@dsi.com.au.

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