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Tesco takes flak in the battle of the Christmas adverts

Christmas adverts

I loathed the John Lewis one, it was truly awful. Stuart Heritage wrote a piece in the Guardian that summed it up quite well. Have to say I do like the Aldi Mickey take though! And as you will see from the link, I’m not alone, oh how the mighty have fallen JL! It’s almost as if the makers of previous John Lewis adverts did Sainsbury’s this year because that one does bring a smile to your face. It’s familiar to anyone who grew up with Mog or has children and it is a great story. You’ve got to love the dogs in the Asda adverts, then who can even remember some of the other supermarket adverts and then there’s Tesco…

Followers of the blog know that I like picking on supermarket failings. Tesco in particular (see the history of various posts including taking them to court for the uninitiated). And well, I haven’t done one on Tesco for a while and there seemed so much to talk about with their adverts so here we go….
The reality of Tesco adverts

Earlier in the year Dave Lewis said ‘You can’t advertise your way out of problems you’ve behaved your way into’. Yup.

The Tesco adverts

What do you think? Not seen them? You can see the first two here. Well, apparently according to a survey of 700 consumer OnePulse showed that 66% agreed that the new ad was “really funny” and 76% recognised the adverts’ stars from their previous TV appearances. In The Grocer Lewis was quoted as saying that Tesco’s personality was one of the three key factors in his plan on top of improving service and revitalising the “Every Little Helps” mantra. “The thing that Tesco has always had historically is the sense of humour that its customers have understood,” said Lewis. “If you want an example of that, go back to Dudley Moore, go back to Dotty, go back to some of those campaigns.””

OK, now, I’ve met Dave, I think he’s got a good sense of humour (he happily chats to me, so that’s either a good sense of humour or he’s bonkers… or both). So, he may well have a good solid background in marketing and I have zilch, but hey when did lack of experience stop me having an opinion or as in this case asking for a load of others too?

In my newsletter, on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, I asked people for their opinions on the advert. It would appear that we can challenge the OnePulse survey figures.

Tesco’s research

I am reliably informed that Bartle Bogle Hegarty undertook lots of research in the form of focus groups. Lots of ‘em, I’m led to believe. Participants were asked what they thought of supermarket adverts, Tesco generally and they found that people had liked the Dotty adverts of the 80s so they thought they’d put a modern spin on that. The same focus groups were shown early drafts of the adverts and a series of polls were also undertaken. I know, you do wonder how, when some of us follow Tesco and the like and what they are up to and do we ever get asked? Nope. Apparently all well received. People liked them.

Tesco Statements

Well, if you look at various pieces about Tesco and their thoughts on their advertising in Marketing Week (and here and here!) and on their own site here you’ll see a lot of back patting about how much better they are getting and how fabulous their adverts are! It’s all rather premature if you ask me.

The failings of surveys and focus groups

Firstly, let’s ask some questions of the surveys and responses (although I don’t have the answers!!)
1) What questions were asked in the survey? Were they leading questions?
2) Xx agreed with yy statement were all the question closed like this putting an idea in people’s heads?
3) How many times did each person have to see the advert?
4) Were they all Tesco customers?
5) In any focus group were people led by others in the group?
6) Did the respondents feel that their responses were 100% confidential or that they may lose their place at the table where they might get rewards for their answers?
7) What percentage of respondents couldn’t care less and just filled out anything because they had to do something?
8) What percentage of people couldn’t actually be bothered to speak in a focus group or ticked any old thing in a survey for speed and/or just to get the voucher or whatever they got as a thank you for being involved.

9) What things were not suggested, but had they been everyone in the group may have agreed with?

With that in mind, I asked one open question. “You know those Tesco ads with Ben Miller? What do you think – full and honest opinions please whether you like or don’t like. Amuse not amuse? What do you think of the characters. I’ve seen the headline feedback that Tesco got and I wonder if we differ so share your thoughts please for a future blog post.” With a link to the ads for those who hadn’t seen them.

So, although I didn’t get 700 responses, more like around 100 but they were from people who willingly gave their opinions for nothing in return. What was the most important to them about the adverts?

The results?

Well! There was an overwhelming cry of “annoying”.
Tesco survey said 66% agreed that the advert was really funny.
Our survey on Facebook (the place that starts more arguments than any other) 7% said funny at first then get annoying. A further 7% said nothing positive or negative and the other 86% said “annoying” “irritating” and/or “boring”.

I asked a few times on Twitter. A few people were really rather rude about the adverts! They made me smile but I try and be professional and not swear on here so they can’t be repeated! 15% thought they were funny and the other 85% couldn’t find a good word to say about them. Actually I didn’t need to ask, just look at the Twitter feed on “Tesco advert”. Even the social media team gave up for saying they would feedback for a while. There was also a thread on Mumsnet criticising the adverts, asking why didn’t they create a real family? And various others! This one (AdTurds) even gives the words people are putting into searches about the adverts! Seems nearly everybody hates them! Then there’s the comments on one of the adverts on Youtube. Can’t find anyone who actually finds them funny.

On LinkedIn I asked the same. Well 100% didn’t like them although to be fair one person did have some positive comments:


When a few more adverts came out I asked if people thought they had got better or worse. Short answer worse. Longer answer – well someone said:

Tesco wasting money on adverts

Well, actually Chris thinks wrong! The contract is worth £110 million according to many a media report earlier in the year when Tesco moved its advertising contract to Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

Tesco adverts waste of money

The questions raised some really interesting answers though such as:

The advertising message

People who don’t shop in Tesco didn’t always understand the message about Tesco Brand Guarantee. They either thought that it was just advertising the fact that there was a Tesco Brand Guarantee, they didn’t realise it was taken off at the till and one thought you had to know the prices from another store. The message doesn’t appear to be getting across to non customers. Although everyone who understood the message or who knew it already was very positive about the actual issue. (Me too!) What hasn’t come across though is that no-one picked up on the fact that Tesco has stopped price matching own brand goods, it is now only price matching branded goods.

Boring/irritating adverts

Overwhelming consensus on this. An example of a few of the comments:


Adverts identifying with the family

Respondents were asked what they thought of the family. No-one identified with the characters. In fact, far from it. Whilst some people liked the actors, many said that they did not identify with them. Phil in the LinkedIn comment above mentioned about the Tesco demographic and non-represented people and that has been said in different ways by many others. On Twitter people mentioned about the son being a similar age to his parents, questioning choice of actors and the way they apparently shopped. I couldn’t find any views from people that thought of them as a family and that they were well cast together.

I read somewhere that the mother is supposed to be a headmistress. Well the fact that she is meant to be a headteacher should mean that the advert needs to be showing the store at the most busy of times or very late evening because no head teacher is shopping in Tesco at the quiet day times!

Incidentally my Mum, who unlike me is a nice person, (and we all knows Mums are right) said, “Who is the dreadful actor that plays the idiot and why are they paying the others which is a waste of money which I think could be better spent on savings for customers!”

Others had some interesting views:

tesco 8


Sexism and harrassment in adverts

Some people had even more to add about the adverts. Sexist – insinuating that women do all the shopping and that’s why the mum knows about the Tesco Brand Guarantee but the dad doesn’t, implying that men are arrogant and stupid when coming to shopping. A lot of people were particularly critical of the harassment of the son and a female shopper.




tesco adverts sexist

Women on a blog site shared their thoughts:

Complaints about Tesco


1) People do not identify with the family
2) Sexist
3) Advocating harassment in the Tesco stores
4) Even if they found funny the first time, this feeling does not last
5) Patronising
6) Old fashioned, trying to capture “Bisto family” appeal but failing, as people don’t identify with the family
7) Modern spin on Dotty? Really? With the ageing population and increase of elderly people on their own one could argue that the old advert was more realistic and more appealing than the nuclear family?
8) Uncreative, with an emphasis on style over substance

9) Majority of people seem to dislike the adverts but so much so large numbers are talking about them, perhaps now quite in the wat Tesco envisaged, but I suppose they say, no such thing as bad publicity!

What do we know?

Well as followers of this blog know, I often say what do I know, I’m just a customer? And in this instance have no experience in marketing or advertising as well as no experience working in the private sector! That goes for you too of course, you are “only” customers of the supermarket. You aren’t being paid a fortune to come up with trite, old fashioned, lazy, poorly thought out adverts. But here’s the thing, we are the customers, so who better to tell Tesco how they should be advertising? Even more importantly what about the people who aren’t Tesco customers, shouldn’t they be telling Tesco how to advertise?

Oh look, more independent research shows just where Tesco comes in the popularity rankings of the Christmas adverts. Poor show Tesco!

Future of Tesco adverts

Possibly this?

Tesco advert

So, here are my thoughts, feel free to add your comments below on what you think about them and add yours. There will be trouble if anyone nicks any of our ideas of course!

1) If Tesco has to stick with this unrealistic family which don’t go well together, show them at home with pets. The UK is a nation of animal lovers and that’s where you really get the humour and the “aw” factor that people can watch repeatedly. Think YouTube hits and TV programmes where “animals doing the funniest things”.
2) In the same vein, when at home introduce young children, although Tesco will have to get around the fact that the kids were in nursery/school when the headteacher was shopping… many of us WILL pick them up on that!
3) Points 1 and 2 give opportunity to have many a short clip on cute kids and animals, the sort of things that go viral. It’s free advertising.
4) The family need to meet people in the store who aren’t white middle class couples…?
5) Stop being sexist in so many ways.
6) Come up with original ideas about “the family”. Oh and if you are promoting gluten free products how about acknowledging other allergies such as nuts, milk and eggs?
7) If you really want to bring some humour in, remember that Tesco has a long way to go in reclaiming its top position in the supermarket rankings. How about using Yazz’s “The Only way is Up” as background music about what changes that Tesco is making. Those of us who are old enough to remember the track probably spend the most in the stores?
8) And a bit of humility wouldn’t go amiss either now, would it?

By Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow

Consultant | Author | Speaker | Blogger | Presenter | Journalist
Helping to make, prevent and deal with complaints

7 replies on “Tesco takes flak in the battle of the Christmas adverts”

Tesco has always done “humourous” adverts as opposed to pulling the old heart strings. Keeps with their tradition I suppose.

Please see all these posts. I know he receives hundreds and hundreds of emails a day and they get passed to team members. Although this has nothing to do with the post above I am interested in your complaint and I am assuming that it is not resolved?

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