Lowes lends coherence to the Tesco communications mix

The award-winning client encourages its ad agency to advise on its marketing mix, Michele Martin says.

Controlling the corporate image of a huge brand such as Tesco is a tall order; everything from a high-profile television campaign to the chirpy demeanour of a humble shelf stacker affects, in its own way, the public’s perception of the company. Its larger stores can turnover pounds 2 million a week - significant businesses in their own right – so without a set of guiding principles, an organisation of this stature can easily resemble a marionette whose head is facing in one direction while its legs and arms go off in quite another.

But clearly, Campaign’s 1994 Advertiser of the Year is doing something right; after years of slugging it out on the high street with arch- rival, Sainsbury, Tesco finally pulled ahead this April. In more ways than one, the ‘Every little helps’ ethos is the glue that holds Tesco’s marketing strategy together. Not only is it the inspiration behind its advertising, promotion and its service culture, it also reflects the many and varied media used in harmony to communicate its strong brand values.

‘Every little helps’ is flexible in that it can mean different thing

to different people. It is not marketing to an average,’ Carolyn Bradley, director of advertising and strategic planning for Tesco, says. ‘The media plan is the same - its variety matches the strategy.’

This flexible thinking has put more pressure on Tesco’s frontline ad agency, Lowe Howard-Spink, but it takes the challenge in its stride. ‘Integrated advertising is no big deal for us, we’ve always done it as an agency,’ Lowes’ board account director for Tesco, Marc Cave, says.

‘It’s become a bit of a bandwagon recently, but we’ve done it for Lloyds since 1982, for Imperial Tobacco since 1985, and we are now doing it increasingly for Tesco.’

According to Cave, Lowes’ TV campaign sets the agenda for the other marketing communication channels. The current campaign features the actress, Prunella Scales, as ‘Dotty Turnbull’, the shopper from hell.

These ads are a more confident expression of the ‘Every little helps’ theme introduced in 1993 with a gaggle of cutesie babies, which allowed Tesco to change the emphasis of its marketing from quality - as touted in the previous Dudley Moore campaign - to customer care.

One of the key successes of this customer-based strategy is the Club Card, launched in February by Evans Hunt Scott for a reported pounds 5 million. It has already established itself as the most popular loyalty card in the UK with some six million participants.

Customers accumulate points for offers or discounts, and a free magazine, published by the National Magazine Company, is sent to around four million cardholders. In-store events are organised as a means of adding value and rewarding cardholders, while mailouts alert them to special offers. ‘It’s been pitched as a thank-you card for our customers, and they’ve appreciated that,’ Fiona Archer, Tesco’s local marketing manager, explains. ‘It gives us the opportunity both to talk and to listen to our customers on a one-to-one basis.’

In a similar vein, the sales promotion specialist, IMP, has for the past five years organised a scheme at Tesco stores whereby shoppers can collect vouchers towards computer equipment for local schools.

But undoubtedly Lowes has led the way for Tesco in exploiting a host of media opportunities. The latest example is a Web Site on the Internet through which shoppers can browse the company’s report and accounts or order a selection of wine. Cardguide has been used to promote the supermarket’s chain of Metro stores, while Teletext was deemed to be an appropriate medium for last year’s Christmas price offers.

The regional press has proved ideal for highlighting specific store openings and radio hasn’t been overlooked either. An ad tailored to the multi-ethnic community on London’s Old Kent Road set out to snaffle local perceptions that Tesco was a largely white, middle-class store.

Making these disparate strands pull together is the key to Tesco’s success. Archer explains: ‘We use Lowes a lot for the thinking part of the operation. We like the agency to have an overview of everything that we do so that it all looks like it comes out of the one company.’

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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).