How Tesco Is Fighting Back By Making “Every Little Helps” For A New Era

The beleaguered U.K. supermarket giant aims to put helpfulness at the heart of everything it does.

How Tesco Is Fighting Back By Making “Every Little Helps” For A New Era

It’s been a little over a year since Dave Lewis took the reins as CEO at U.K. supermarket behemoth Tesco. To say he stepped into a company in difficulty would be an understatement. Poor investment decisions by his predecessors, a humiliating meat fraud mess, and the beginnings of a huge accounting scandal that is still playing out today, all required his attention.


In addition, the U.K. grocery sector was then, and continues to be, arguably at its most competitive. Tesco sits in the middle market and is under attack from Waitrose and Marks & Spencer from the premium end and, even more damagingly, from German discounters Aldi and Lidl, firing from the other direction.

The U.K. press enjoys referring to Lewis as “Drastic Dave” but there is little doubt dramatic action was needed. Under his stewardship, Tesco has undergone an aggressive turnaround strategy. Over the last year, plans for new stores were ditched, several peripheral businesses, including streaming service Blinkbox, were divested, more than 40 failing stores were closed, in-store staff numbers have increased, prices of key brands slashed, and more.

A major management clear out was also part of these changes, including several senior marketers, and in April this year Lewis hired former Barclays CMO, Michelle McEttrick, as group brand director. An additional, knock-on effect was the impromptu but not entirely unexpected termination of the two-and-a-half year relationship with ad agency Wieden & Kennedy. Lewis, formerly a marketer and category head at Unilever, hired BBH London without a pitch–the deal was done via a few calls with the agency’s global CEO Neil Munn, with whom he had worked previously.

Now Tesco has unveiled a new brand campaign, its first major repositioning since Lewis’s arrival. Instead of diving into a rebrand straight away, Lewis prioritized sorting out the fundamentals of the business saying, “You can’t advertise your way out of problems you behaved your way into.”

From running shops to serving people

McEttrick outlines what needs to be done for the Tesco brand, saying, “We need to move Tesco from running shops to serving people. The brand purpose, which was launched to 320,000 Tesco colleagues in June is ‘Serving Britain’s shoppers a little better every day.’”

The retailer took a major step this week by being the first U.K. supermarket to launch immediate discounts on its price-matching scheme, instead of issuing a coupon that had to be brought back on a subsequent visit.

Michelle McEttrick

“When we think about the purpose, being of service, it really has to start with the colleagues who deliver that service in store and online,” McEttrick says. “They need to feel pride in the brand and we’ve had a tough reputational year, it’s been hard to feel proud working at Tesco. It’s really important that we re-instill that as well as doing all the fundamentals that are going to make it easier for them to do their job and really serve people.”

McEttrick says that while Tesco has a huge physical brand presence in the U.K., it desperately needs to put warmth and humor back into the brand. “We’ve really worked hard on the tone of voice and the personality that we want to be creating with customers,” McEttrick says. “We want people to be able to feel, ‘Tesco is on my side’ and ‘Tesco makes me smile’.”

At the heart of the new campaign is the rejuvenation of Tesco’s long-term tagline, “Every little helps.”

The ads, by BBH London, are all intended to be helpful in some way. For example, a print ad is also a handy shoe-size measuring tool for children’s feet. Another shows what a certain amount of spinach looks like both raw and cooked, while another shows what the inside of eggs look like when cooked for differing lengths of time.

In a similar vein, highly responsive ads have been run around U.K. TV phenomenon, The Great British Bake Off, whereby recipes and instructions have been published so people can recreate the recipes cooked by contestants in the previous evening’s show. Master bakers are also available in-store to advise and assist budding patisserie chefs.

The TV ads featuring a quirky family, directed by Danny Kleinman, focus on helpfulness with film perhaps allowing for more humor and warmth. McEtterick says the stories of the family members will unfold over time.


A strategic family

The composition of this “modern British family“ has not been chosen at random. Each member represents a strategic growth segment for Tesco. “We have the post-family segment, parents whose kids have moved away from home, which is growing, as is the ‘boomerang’ child phenomenon,” says McEttrick. “This is a mother and father who ‘should’ be childless right now but have 25-year-old Freddie living with them. We also see a big increase in single person households. We’re hoping to span a lot of relevance across really important segments.”

She says the modern British family is an “ownable” demographic for the brand. “We are doing it in a way that is completely different to anything else that is happening in the market,” says McEttrick. “We spent a lot of time talking after we first looked at this idea, no one else is doing family and people really aren’t doing warm British humor. Because it is so consistent with the Tesco brand DNA, we think it’s a huge opportunity.”

Referring to the tagline’s history, she says, “Every little helps was best when it was really listening hard to customers and identifying the things that were either little niggles or big pains in the neck and then going out and fixing them. And doing that in a consistent way, so no big bang ‘here, everything is fixed’. The way people remember it is the warm way it was delivered.”

Acts, Not Ads

Tesco is fighting its way out of a dark period, and while recent profits were down an alarming 55% in its half-year results, it is generally felt that Lewis is doing all the right things. However, a recovery is going to take time.

McKettrick concedes there may be some hangovers from the recent hits to the brand’s reputation, but says the most important thing now is making sure the experience customers have every day at Tesco is a positive one. “If we can surprise and delight them with the services we provide and the products we create, then that’s the battle ground,” she says.

The campaign is a deliberate public step into a new era, in which Tesco hopes to be defined by helpful behavior. McEttrick says, “We have a phrase that we use a lot when we are evaluating our brand activities, which is, ‘acts, not ads.’”


About the author

Louise Jack is a London-based journalist, writer and editor with a background in advertising and marketing. She has written for several titles including Marketing Week, Campaign and The Independent.