Opinion: Newland on ... Tesco

It's tough at the top. Just ask Tesco. The supermarket is one of Britain's most successful retailers, not least because it's had one of Britain's most successful advertising campaigns supporting it for the past ten years.

The tough bit comes in when you try to stay on top. How do you keep fighting off the hungry competition? How do you replace one of Britain's best-loved ad campaigns? Ask Lowe. Tesco is rolling out the much-anticipated Dotty successor as you read.

Of Tesco's rivals, the Wal-Mart-owned Asda is the strongest. Wal-Mart's unstoppable march across the world's retail markets is daunting. In the UK, Tesco has taken the battle into Adsa's back yard: price.

The new campaign is very price-centric. The TV work borrows the ping and price starbursts from Tesco's Cherokee ads. There's a spartan feel to the campaign and there's plenty of copy supporting a price proposition.

My favourite is an ad for Value jeans with a voiceover from James Nesbitt.

It features a folded pair of jeans against a white background. Nesbitt points out that you can wear the jeans to paint the town red, or at only four quid you can wear them to paint the living room red.

But unlike Asda, Tesco's branding does not pivot on price. Tesco is about customer service, so the campaign has also had to work hard to incorporate the customer. There's an ad for eggs that points out that you can buy six ordinary eggs for 52p, or, if your standards are higher, you can spend £1.95.

The print ads do it very directly. "Bran.97p. Why so cheap? We want to keep you regular." Or: "Cheese. Can cause nightmares. Like you shopping elsewhere. Scary. That's why this piece is only 87p."

The campaign doesn't just try to generate customer loyalty, it takes a starring role in the ads. It's very Tesco. I like the way the ads include everybody. There's no snobbery, not even inverted; Tesco can sell you cheap or expensive potatoes. The range of accents used as voiceovers in the TV work covers Cockney, Northern Irish, Birmingham and others.

The ads employ first-class writing and art direction. It doesn't come better than this. The full-page broadsheet execution of an egg will stop readers in their tracks.

There's also a strong commitment from media. Full-page press ads will appear in every national newspaper for the first two weeks. Ten TV spots will air for five weeks, the first breaking in Coronation Street.

But there is a but. The campaign does not entertain; it does not tell a story. This is something Dotty did expertly.

It's also something Lowe does with the rest of its high-profile work including Stella Artois and HSBC.

Agency and client have made a big compromise here. The campaign is expertly constructed and executed, but the level to which it can engage shoppers is limited. It is advertising in the raw sense - it informs customers of prices and products, but it does little to repay them for the commercial interruption to their viewing.

In a belt-and-braces move, Tesco is retaining the services of Prunella Scales. It's considering reintroducing her at Christmas. This is because she embraces consumers - remember last year's spot with Roger Moore. The new work doesn't offer that kind of warmth.

This won't matter in the short term; consumers will enjoy the novelty of the new campaign, and its smart dialogue, but in the long-term it risks becoming wallpaper.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Might be time for an IPA Effectiveness Award

before the campaign runs out of steam.

File under ... S for stand-out.

What would the chairman's wife say? "That really is very cheap."

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