Tesco Fights to Win Back Shoppers With First TV Ads of 2015

Britain's Biggest Supermarket is Confident it Can Leave Scandals Behind

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Tesco 'Every Little Helps'
Tesco 'Every Little Helps'

Tesco, Britain's biggest supermarket chain, is hoping to kick start a brand turnaround this weekend with a new TV campaign by Bartle Bogle Hegarty London.

The retail giant has been dogged by a $400 million accounting disgrace and a reputation for bullying its suppliers, as well as a European-wide horsemeat scandal and a failed expansion into the U.S. Its market share has fallen to 28.2% from 29.6% at the start of 2014 (Kantar Worldpanel) as customers look elsewhere for better prices and service.

Last year, Tesco lured CEO Dave Lewis from Unilever, where he was head of personal care, to take on the challenge of restoring the supermarket's credibility with British consumers.

Mr. Lewis told staff, "We can't advertise our way out of something we behaved our way into," and preached an "acts not ads" approach. "Drastic Dave" (as he is known) set about implementing an "inside out" strategy, aimed at making Tesco a better place to work and shop.

"Advertising was the last guest at the party," said Michelle McEttrick, Tesco's group brand director. She herself was pretty late to the party – she was brought in by Mr. Lewis in May – having previously worked at Barclays, and before that at BBH, where she helped turn around the Barclays and British Airways brands.

"There has been a lot of turbulence in the last year," Ms. McEttrick admitted, "but I joined an organization with a passion and commitment to put the customer at the heart of everything we do."

BBH was appointed to run the $200 million Tesco business in January, without a pitch. Mr. Lewis had worked with the agency on Axe/Lynx while at Unilever, and BBH global CEO Neil Munn is another Unilever alumnus.

The first decision was to retain Tesco's 20-year-old "Every Little Helps" strapline and to use it as a company-wide focus for innovation and change.

Two new TV spots – the first to run this year – break on Sunday, each focusing on an important pillar of Tesco's "Every Little Helps" mantra. They introduce a family of three: mum Jo, dad Roger and their 21-year-old son Freddie.

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The first spot promotes the "one in front" policy, where the retailer promises to open up a new cash register if a customer is faced with a queue. Jo is delighted when a nice young man from Tesco opens up a new till and ushers her to the front of his queue. "I've still got it," she thinks, "Those pilates classes must be working."

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The second spot promotes the brand guarantee, where Tesco refunds the difference if a branded item costs less at a rival supermarket. Roger is determined not to pay too much for his cornflakes, and decides to barter with the cashier, proudly using techniques he's learnt in a Moroccan souk. He thinks he's been successful and got a better price – but in fact he has merely been the beneficiary of Tesco's brand guarantee policy.

The actors are well known in the U.K., but Caroline Pay, deputy executive creative director at BBH, said, "They have not been cast as celebs. They have been chosen because they are comedy institutions."

Ms. Pay added, "People want to feel good about Tesco. I love the challenge of trying to be genuinely helpful. We are shaping an enormous brand with a single promise: 'If it's not helpful, it's not Tesco,' and with every creative brief I expect to see behavioral ideas. It's a lovely discipline."

Print work directly follows through on the "helpful" principle. A full page ad has a shoe sizing chart that children can use to measure their feet; another shows you exactly how much pasta you need per portion; and another demonstrates just how much fresh spinach shrinks when it is cooked.

"We are fully recommitted to our 'Every Little Helps' strategy," Ms. McEttrick said, "and we will be constantly underpinning it. It's absolutely the right strategy and it is unique to Tesco. We need to establish what is different about us. It's also important to rebuild warmth and personality and create a conversation at the national level."

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