How Tesco won back nervous shoppers with a dose of nostalgia

Tesco decided a dose of nostalgia would be healthy for shoppers worried about Brexit.

Grocery shoppers became increasingly nervous in 2019, with Tesco crediting uncertainties over Brexit, and what leaving the EU would mean for prices and supply chains, for a consumer move to prioritise value for money.

With rival discount retailers expanding fast, Tesco decided to act to protect its market share. The supermarket’s 100th birthday provided a key opportunity. Tesco decided to use four month-long trade events to stage a brand building campaign, to drive sustained growth and improvement in value perceptions.

The retailer knew low prices can drive short-term sales increases, so to ensure long-term change Tesco initiated an emotional campaign based on nostalgia.

Tesco CEO Dave Lewis set a goal for the scheme, telling the company: “We need to get people outside of Tesco talking about these events.”

The retailer focused on three ‘truths’ to deliver its message. These were the cultural truth, that its customers were looking for escapism; the consumer truth, that nostalgia is personal, and many of its customers grew up in the 1980s and 90s; and the category truth, that Tesco wasn’t the only retailer celebrating an anniversary, and would have to ensure its celebrations stood out.

The ‘Prices that take you back’ campaign from BBH promoted rational and tangible price reductions, but through a rich emotional lens that introduced figures from the UK’s past such as Mr Blobby and Mr Motivator.

To reinforce the message, Tesco rolled the campaign out across channels with a uniform look and feel.

All other Tesco campaigns were halted during communication bursts, with Tesco calculating that its message reached 93% of the UK adult population in three weeks.

Sales and store data were used to identify ‘value hotspots’ that allowed geo-targeted social and out-of-home ads, encouraging shoppers with discounters to switch to Tesco.

The retailer’s staff were given an exclusive preview of the ads, and additional discounts, while popular retro products – including Freddos and Skips – were sold at throwback prices.

Nostalgic TV show Supermarket Sweep was recreated, and cartoon character Danger Mouse was brought back for the campaign finale.

According to Nielsen data, the campaign was the highest recalled retail ad in the UK. It saw Tesco’s value perception improve, and drove a 50% uplift in incremental sales.

The fact Tesco reached customers in such a joined up way across multiple touchpoints saw it take home the prize for multichannel marketing at the 2020 Marketing Week Masters awards. The supermarket also won the awards for social media and sponsorship and partner marketing.

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