‘The difficult second album’: How Boots is following last year’s campaign success

Boots has lots to live up to with its new advertising campaign, which launches today as the brand’s biggest summer push to date.

Working out how to follow up on a year of highly successful marketing is a challenge all good marketers will likely face at one point or another during their career.

With last year’s ‘Feel Good as New’ campaign having exceeded all goals, this is exactly the challenge Boots CMO Pete Markey faced when devising the plans for this summer’s marketing push. It’s like putting together “that difficult second album”, he tells Marketing Week.

According to Markey, Feel Good as New led to Boots both growing its market share and moving its brand health metrics above their original targets. The campaign also delivered a £2 return on investment (ROI) for every £1 spent.

The campaign proved so strong that Boots’ parent company, the Walgreens Boots Alliance, credited its role in driving a 15% increase in comparable retail sales in the UK in its fourth quarter financial results. The Boots website also saw a boost, with a 700% rise in the number of visitors to the Health Hub alone, while overall searches for the brand jumped 15%.

“It was a hard working campaign that really worked well for us and did what we wanted to in terms of reintroducing Boots to people as the new, modern, relevant face of Boots today. All those metrics have been sustained through Christmas into what we’ve done this year,” Markey claims.‘Trustworthy, modern, expert’: Boots crowned June’s most effective ad

Indeed, after Boots launched its Christmas campaign ‘Bags of Joy’ last November, the retailer found itself the only brand in the top five shopped both in-store and online for Christmas across its competitor set.

“The critical bit is we’ve got a formula that’s really working for us as a brand,” Markey explains. The marketing team have learned to “really tap into the mood of the nation” and to tie the creative into the insight coming through.

“It sounds obvious as a marketer, but if we’re tuned into our customers’ lives, we really understand what matters to them. We’ve got our products and services, and experience tuned into that. What we’re doing through the marketing communications is amplifying that,” he says.

“That’s the bit that has stayed really true this year from last year: How do we really tune into how people are feeling and [show] Boots has a positive solution and can help you right now?”

That mindset has birthed Boots latest campaign, ‘Summer Better Be Ready’. Launching today (6 June), the campaign is led by a 60-second and 30-second TV ad created in collaboration with its agency partners, The Pharm and VMLY&R.

The ad subverts the usual narrative of brands telling consumers to ‘get ready for summer’, by illustrating the various ways in which Brits are already ready to squeeze the most out of the season, from parties and festivals to holidays and ice cream. The film features a re-record of The Delfonics ‘Ready or not’, sung acapella in the first half by each summer-ready person.

We did a really thorough review and squeezed every drop of insight from what we learned last year to play into this year.

Pete Markey, Boots

Explaining the thinking behind the campaign, Markey says: “This year, all the insight we’ve seen – despite the very real challenges people are facing with the cost of living – indicates people want to have a really special summer.

“They want to go as big as they can this summer, because the last couple have not been the sort of summer holidays they were wanting to have.”

In fact, consumers are wanting to go so big on the season that it’s summer that better get ready for us, he explains.

“We’re coming, bigger and better than ever. And that ties into everything that we’re doing in Boots, with our extended range across health, beauty and wellness,” Markey adds.

The theme is also reflected in the size of the campaign, which has surpassed Feel Good as New as the brand’s biggest summer campaign ever. It represents a 20% budget increase year on year versus last year.

Activity will run across TV, video-on-demand (VOD), out-of-home (OOH), radio, social, digital, email and cinema – particularly around Baz Luhrmann’s new Elvis film. Boots will also be taking over the YouTube masthead and renewing its sponsorship of ITV’s Love Island.

On top of that, the campaign will leverage reactive, contextual display advertising with Mail Metro Media and smart use of data, targeting OOH screens based on lapsed audiences’ postcodes. This will allow the campaign to respond to cultural moments and deliver engaging communications throughout the summer, Boots says.

Maintaining effectiveness

In its effort to ensure this year’s campaign delivers as effectively as last year’s, Boots did a “really thorough review” of its previous campaign and “squeezed every drop of insight” it could to take those lessons forward.

For example, TV doesn’t feature in all Boots campaigns, but the retailer has established that it is a “particularly effective” channel for the brand through summer and Christmas. That includes the work the retailer did with Love Island last year, when it became the official beauty partner for the show.

When we invest behind the brand, all the other metrics improve.

Pete Markey, Boots

Indeed, Boots saw “good” sales uplift on key brands featured in the show, with an 18% revenue uplift online and 7% in stores. Some brands performed “really well”, with sales of Boots Glow up 40%, for example.

After announcing the partnership on 9 June 2021 and starting daily social posts, Boots’ online sentiment increased “significantly”, from 28% positive between January and June 2021, to 37% positive.

Hence, the brand is renewing its partnership this year and kicking off the campaign during Love Island as it launches on ITV today.

“Love Island has been brilliant for us. What’s brilliant about it is we’re able to feature not just Boots products, but exclusive products that our suppliers sell through Boots online and in-store,” Markey says.

“It’s a great way for us to show up in fresh and relevant ways with products that are really relevant for that audience.”

Last year’s Love Island partnership also saw Boots trial shoppable TV QR codes through LG TVs for the first time. The brand rolled the test across Sky for its Christmas campaign and will this year be extending it across ITV and Channel 4’s All 4.

According to Boots, QR scan completion rates for its Bags of Joy ad – from scan through to product page – was 37%, 23% higher than the test pilot studies. The company credits the shoppable format with helping to bring customers back to Boots, as 45% of customers who bought Christmas gifts from Boots last year did not shop with the retailer for gifts in 2020.

Boots’ ‘Summer Better Be Ready’ campaign. Source: Boots

However, Markey adds that effectiveness is actually all about understanding “the power of the combination of channels you have”.

“We’ve learned a lot from how we use TV with the other channels. So we know that radio and out-of-home work particularly well with TV, and the work we did with cinema at Christmas worked really well for us. We could see that in the econometrics,” he says.

Markey adds that this has also been reflected in the results of its recent £3m campaign promoting its Price Advantage loyalty scheme.

“When we invest behind the brand, all the other metrics improve. Paid search, digital and the cost per sales improve as we drive that top line awareness of the brand and consideration of Boots,” he says.

Value focus and a new platform

Beyond tapping into consumers’ desire to go big on summer this year, the Summer Better Be Ready campaign also has a strong focus on value.

The 30-second core brand film talks about “unmissable deals” this summer, with two 20-second edits bringing some of the specific deals to the forefront. This messaging and the end-frames can be changed throughout the course of the eight week campaign to cover the deals in the market at any one moment.

Currently, one execution of the film promotes Boots’ Essentials range, which offers over 1,000 products for £2 and under. “Hard working” versions of the creative will also run across paid social and digital channels, as well as email, to promote the retailer’s offers.

“What we’ve done is say let’s get out there again, but backed with value. So the message is really about affordability,” Markey explains.

“You can have the summer you want, however big you want to make it – the biggest you’ve had in years – but actually in a really affordable way. [That’s] leaning in very much to how people are feeling about the cost of living at the moment.”

As part of its wider focus on value, Boots has frozen the price of over 1,500 Boots own-brand products this year, while offering 11,000 own-brand products starting from 40p. Markey says the brand will also continue to promote Price Advantage, as April’s campaign has been a “big success” and improved Boots’ value for money perception.Who will win the battle for loyalty?

The new summer campaign is also the first to bring to the fore Boots’ new brand platform, launched in January. The ‘With you. For life’ platform reflects the retailer’s new purpose: ‘We serve our customers’ wellbeing for life’.

The campaign is part of Boots’ mission to be seen as “the expert and the help that’s with you throughout life, in every moment, including having an amazing summer and amazing Christmas,” Markey explains.

But Boots also wants to be with its customers through harder moments as well, both through its pharmacies and its charity partnerships with the Hygiene Bank and Macmillan Cancer Support.

The critical bit is we’ve got a formula that’s really working for us as a brand.

Pete Markey, Boots

“That’s landed really well both internally and externally. That sense that Boots has quite literally been with you for life and supporting you in every moment,” says Markey.

Consumers can expect to hear that message coming through “loud and clear” throughout summer. In fact, the message is already at the centre of work being developed for the months ahead, including Christmas.

Ultimately, however, it all comes back to the same ambition Boots has had for the last year, which is to reposition the brand as relevant for today.

“We’ve got amazing history, but Boots understands life today. We understand the journey we’ve all been through with Covid. We understand the journey people have been through the last couple of years, and we’ve got the products or solutions or service or experience that can help you right now,” Markey concludes.



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  1. Douglas Hayward 13 Jun 2022

    It’s a very distinctive and much-loved brand, so it’s great to see it using marketing/advertising to drive growth. Next up: they need to refresh their very tired stores and get logistics (too many stock outs) sorted.

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