In recent years, the retail sector has turned its most important trading season into an advertising renaissance. A chance to steal hearts and pounds.
But rewind to July, and Team Tesco was working on a series of humbler, shorter scripts.
Tesco had spent the previous 18 months rebuilding trust and had made some hefty changes. It had rebuilt around a new purpose ("Serving Britain’s shoppers a little better every day") and resubscribed to the belief that had first made Tesco a British stalwart in "Every little helps".
At its pomp, Tesco had been both by and on the nation’s side. Listening. Understanding. Helping. So at Christmas, when its customers needed Tesco most, it had to live by these principles.
Christmas is six weeks of bonkers-ness. From the first prickle of fear after Bonfire Night to running out of glasses at the neighbour’s party. It’s an amazing time, but a lot gets thrown at you.
Understanding the stresses and excitement of the period allowed us to create an insight-led, more natural and sequential campaign.
We found a rhythm to the festive season punctuated with key moments and shifting emotions. This helped us make a crucial call: rather than celebrate Christmas or simply trade hard, we needed to empathise and support. Recognise customers’ festive highs and lows, bring a smile to their faces and an offer of support. Boring neighbour? No bother. Pre-turkey-slicing nerves? We’ve been there. Snooze through the TV classic? Us too.
This was less about "shunning the big ad" and more about finding the right role for Tesco: six executions in sync with the real calendar of Christmas. Other channels followed the same approach and holding them together was a simple idea that epitomised our helpful spirit: Christmas – bring it on.
The other factor in choosing this approach was the role for Ruth Jones and Ben Miller as our "helpful shoppers". We had spent the past year crafting them as our branded vehicle and seen them deliver a strong set of results last Christmas (Tesco grew sales by 1.3%) and throughout the year.
Ultimately, it came down to what felt right for Tesco: where we wanted to go with the brand and the role we wanted to play for our customers – striving to be both humble and heroic.
Maybe next July we’ll be talking about a big ad. Maybe not. It has been a mix of approaches so far this year, so maybe the tide is turning.
Simon Gregory is a strategy director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty