Memo to Wieden+Kennedy: Tesco needs campaign consistency, not pyrotechnics

Wieden+Kennedy London has won Tesco’s circa £110m account, presumably because of its record in producing brilliant ads. Now what are they going to do?

Every little helps, as they used to say, so here’s a potted review of some great ads handled by great agencies on behalf of great clients over the past decade or so. It makes surprisingly sober reading. The weight of expectation is clearly too much for all concerned.

W+K’s most famous ad is ‘Grrr’ for Honda diesel. It’s ancient history now, but still worth a look.

It resides in the Clio Awards’ hall of fame and has done the agency no amount of good.

But it’s not a recipe that’s easy to repeat.

A bit later than this Fallon London produced two whizz-bang campaigns, ‘Gorilla’ for Cadbury and then ‘Bouncing Balls’ for Sony. Both of these hoovered up prizes on an industrial scale, but what happened to Fallon? It screwed up Cadbury by making some idiotic account handling mistakes (not controlling the creatives) and Sony departed.

Now Sony is probably the most dysfunctional big marketing-led company in the world. Even so, if you produce an ad like this it should give you ten years on the account – which it did not.

It’s brilliant and it must have sold zillions of Sony Bravia TVs. But Fallon UK is barely on the radar now; the top bods have left for 101 and it’s a now a department of Saatchi & Saatchi.

The W+K London creatives will be champing at the bit to show what they can do with Tesco. But someone should remind them what happened with Honda.

Some more ads emerged, painfully slowly, which weren’t as good as Grrr. The Dream was there, but it never became a coherent campaign in the sense of a series of ads which tell a story about the brand in new and interesting ways.

Let’s remind ourselves what Lowe Howard-Spink did way back when it had. Tesco (I know I’m always banging on about this but it’s true).

The launch campaign featured Dudley Moore chasing free-range chickens around the French countryside. I doubt that Tesco has ever offered a French free-range chicken for sale; it certainly didn’t then and it doesn’t now. But, so what? It told people that Tesco was aware of such things, in a charming way.

Just wonderful stuff. Possibly my favourite ad.

Tesco then went on to run the famous ‘Dotty’ ads with Prunella Scales and Jane Horrocks. Pity it subsequently (maybe on account of dozy advice from its media agency) decided to bung its dosh into loads of press price comparison ads. The lustre faded.

So that’s what W+K has to do: produce a coherent campaign, not a series of one-off pyrotechnics.

These days, of course, the conventional wisdom is that you kick off a campaign with a big ad and then let digital take the strain. In my humble opinion, that’s no the way to build or sustain mega-brands.

W+K London, which is extremely good at digital too, might disagree.

What Tesco CEO Phil Clarke and his under-fire team need is a new version of Dudley Moore chasing French chickens. They may not know it, of course, but that’s the agency’s job.

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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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