How Aldi ‘unsettled everyone’ with its ‘Like Brands, Only Cheaper’ campaign

Aldi’s marketing director Adam Zavalis believes the brand captured the UK public with its ‘Like Brands, Only Cheaper’ campaign by refusing to put “a sheen over real life”.

Brits love tea. But they also know which tea they like. So convincing them to ditch their beloved tea brand and take a chance on the unknown – especially when the unknown is far cheaper and unbranded – is no easy task.

Cue Jean, an elderly lady who compares a box of PG Tips with Aldi’s own-brand tea in the first of the supermarket’s ‘Like Brands, Only Cheaper’ ads, before declaring that she actually prefers gin. The ad from 2011, part of a series of similarly witty executions, marked a turning point for Aldi as it tried to convince the nation that, despite lower prices, its products are as good as big brand alternatives.

In another iteration, a dog is seen guzzling tea from a saucer before Jean pours the remainder into her husband’s cup. And while it might have left a bad taste in his mouth, UK consumers lapped it up, voting ‘Like Brands, Only Cheaper’ their favourite campaign of the 2010s, in Marketing Week’s poll with YouGov Omnibus. Indeed, 30% of Brits voted for the German discounter’s dry humour, putting it ahead of Channel 4’s Superhumans (14%) and John Lewis’s first big-budget Christmas ad from 2011, ‘The Long Wait’ (9%).

“We were trying to dispel this paradigm that in life you get what you pay for: that if something’s too good to be true, then it generally is,” explains Aldi’s UK marketing director Adam Zavalis.

“We had to go out there and prove that myth wrong by demonstrating our Aldi exclusive brands were just as good, if not better, than the brands people know and love.”

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Changing perceptions

Zavalis believes it was a combination of the campaign’s quirky sense of humour, alongside the decision to use non-actors with regional accents from all walks of life, that helped it to capture the public’s imagination.

At a time when M&S was doing ‘food porn’ and Sainsbury’s had been using Jamie Oliver, Aldi wanted to create ads that really resonated with the British consumer; something that people all over the country could actually relate to – “not something that was trying to put a sheen or a gloss over real life,” Zavalis says.

READ MORE: Tesco’s marketing boss on rebuilding trust and why people need brands more than ever

And so Aldi’s creative team at McCann Manchester decided to embark on a roadtrip around the UK, often sitting in local cafes, garden centres and Little Chef restaurants to find people that were a “real reflection of real life”.

That’s how they found Jean, a woman in her 80s who hadn’t done any acting since her primary school days.

“We didn’t want these ads to look like ads,” explains Dave Price, executive creative director at McCann Manchester. “We didn’t want big advertising directors, we didn’t want an edit, we didn’t want a cut, we just wanted to let the camera run and for you to feel like you were eavesdropping on real conversations.

“We wanted to hold a mirror up to society. The key thing was trying to get normal, everyday people you could imagine in their front room having a biscuit or a cup of tea.”

We were trying to dispel this paradigm that in life you get what you pay for: that if something’s too good to be true, then it generally is.

Adam Zavalis, Aldi

The production of the ad was small and cheap, “one [step] above a hostage video”, jokes creative director Neil Lancaster. It was shot in somebody’s house with a crew of five, relying on nothing but natural light, a basic Canon camera and the obedience of a small dog.

“The hardest bit was making it look like it wasn’t written by an ad agency and capturing it in those magic 16.5 seconds,” Price explains.

The ‘Like Brands, Only Cheaper’ campaign also came as Tesco started slashing the price of its no-frills range to compete with the discounters, which ruffled some feathers at Aldi and spurred the brand on to prove that its products were better than Tesco’s cheapest range.

But rather than comparing its products to the supermarkets’ own-labels, Aldi decided to put its own-label goods “on a pedestal” and compete with the brand leaders.

“I think it made people think ‘what am I paying for?’ If there’s someone who I like on camera who likes [Heinz] tomato sauce or PG Tips, but they also like the Aldi product, it breaks through some kind of wall for people [and encourages them to] go into Aldi and give it a go. It unsettled everyone, not just the suppliers but the other supermarkets as well.”

Brand backlash

The fact Aldi explicitly featured competitors in the ads, earned it a lot of angry letters from brands – including Heinz. But Aldi maintains that while it was comparative, it wasn’t “disparaging” to the competition.

The campaign certainly marked a significant turning point for the brand in the UK. Aldi saw its pre-tax profit surge 124% to £157.9m in 2012, and it attracted a million more shoppers through its doors. The campaign also earned it more than 25 national and international creative and effectiveness awards.

“It was a step change and a lot of things came together,” Zavalis says. “The pricing was right, the economy gave an opportunity, but more than that we got our range right and the ranging of our products right to the British consumer.

“We relooked at things in 2010/11 to make sure our range would really appeal, but what ‘Like Brands’ did is prick the conscience of the British consumer to re-evaluate Aldi.”

Aldi also won on brand awareness, according to Marketing Week’s survey, with 62% of people suggesting they had seen the ad and 84% recognising it was for Aldi.

Eight years later and with more than 100 ‘Like Brands, Only Cheaper’ ads under its belt, Aldi’s myth-busting certainly seems to be paying off.