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Dotty and Dudley set the creative bar for BBH and Tesco

BBH global CEO Neil Munn (who isn’t a ‘global’ these days?) says the agency wants to rebuild trust in Tesco following its appointment to handle the whopper creative account.

This mirrors new CEO Dave Lewis’s mantra. Without wishing to labour the point, it was hardly an option for Wieden+Kennedy in its recent tenure of the account as every week brought more evidence of dodgy doings at the UK supermarket leader, most dramatically a £263m accounting scandal.

But trust it is and it’s clearly the right strategy – along with lower prices, of course.

Tesco has had two great campaigns over the last 30 years or so, both from Lowe Howard-Spink. The most recent, from the late 1990s, featured Prunella Scales as Dotty and her long-suffering daughter played by Jane Horrocks.

Which showed that you can be warm and funny – and transmit a hard low prices message.

But Lowe’s first campaign was the real beauty. Tesco had been known for Green Shield stamps, an early version of a loyalty scheme, and its celebrated, if possibly mythical, mantra ‘Pile It high, Sell It Cheap.’ That wasn’t the Frank Lowe style – Lowe’s alma mater was the wonderful Collett Dickenson Pearce – and Lowe’s first effort for Tesco combined two key elements of the CDP songbook: anarchic humour and celebrity in the diminutive form of the late, great Dudley Moore.

No hard price message here but it didn’t need one then. It was slaughtering great rival Sainsbury’s on price and everyone knew it. What they didn’t know was that Tesco sourced, or wanted to source, good stuff.

So Tesco made us smile, to its huge advantage. Did this approach engender trust? Yes, we were batting for and smiling along with Moore. And, as many young ladies have found out to their cost, you tend to trust someone who makes you smile.

Both of these campaigns happened a long, long time ago. When Lowe lured Tesco away to his start-up The Red Brick Road we expected more of the same. But it didn’t happen although the ads were stylish enough within their self-imposed limits, or Tesco’s limits.

So what is BBH likely to produce? Are campaigns like Dotty or Dudley Moore’s fruitless search for French free range chickens even possible any more in a cut-throat British grocery market?

Sainsbury’s, of course, has shown that you can do something different with its celebrated ‘Christmas Is For Sharing’ Great War ad from AMV/BBDO. But that’s a one-off, unless the British and German soldiers make a wholly unexpected reappearance (don’t do it Sainsbury’s).

BBH will be setting the creative bar high and Dave Lewis, who sponsored campaigns like Axe/Lynx (by BBH) and Dove at Unilever, will certainly give them a chance.

BBH is hardly known for its use of celebrities. Can’t think of any apart from a toe-curling effort for Vodafone a while ago featuring racing drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. But the appropriate celeb, or name actor, might be a quick way to establish a new platform for Tesco.

But the agency will pull out all the stops. What’s the betting that founder Sir Nigel Bogle postpones his departure from a full-time role for another year or two? We might even see a bit more of that other BBH knight John Hegarty around the building.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.
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