A War of Green and Blue

by

Since the economy’s seemingly inevitable slide downhill reached the public consciousness about 7 or 8 months ago, Asda have been plugging their cheap, branded goods to exceptional effect. The supermarket’s ads have been all over the place, their bright green arrows declaring exactly how many of their products are cheaper than Tesco’s, Morrisons’ and Sainsburys’ based on an “independent” price comparison website. The ads’ content speaks of raw data, but the most important messages are far more embedded into the format of the ad as a whole, and resonate on a far deeper level than numbers alone –

The semiological language of the ad is intentionally thrifty – white, in British society, is a cultural byword for…

plain, cheap and uninteresting; white is a starting point; you whitewash a room and go from there – it is a reduction to bare necessities. This message permeates from the ad itself – ‘We spent hardly any money on this ad. Why? Well firstly we don’t need fancy graphics when our stats prove we’re cheaper, and secondly, by spending hardly any money on our ads, we can pass the savings on to you’ (no matter that a red or black background would have cost exactly the same to produce, the important thing is that the connotations wouldn’t have been right). The Asda arrow is larger, obviously, than any other, but it is also more perky, and interestingly has a drop shadow placed to make its arrowhead stand out, rather than blend into its tail. The head moves around, almost looking around the screen – again, the implication is clear; Asda are driven, motivated and irrascible in their quest to find you better prices, whilst Tesco (whose arrow has a non-highlighted head, that only moves to look in fear at the advancing behemoth overtaking it) are reduced to simply following, trailing desperately in a futile bid to catch up, but without the passion, the charisma or the desire to really be the cheapest place around for you to buy food. Finally, the theme tune from Dad’s Army plays in the background, bringing with it all of the show’s conceits – Asda are clearly positioning themselves as the underdogs, fighting back with all their pluck against the might of the invading Tesco swastikas –

Following this campaign, Tesco responded with a fairly shortlived new slogan and conceit, that they were ‘Britain’s Biggest Discounter’, splashing ads all over the place demonstrating single, blatantly loss-leading products, in an attempt to sway customers who had seemingly flocked away to Asda, Lidl and Aldi as the credit crunch got into full swing (including a one day media blitz of every quality colour newspaper in the country, which was estimated at around £450,000) –

But this tack, it seems, was fairly unsuccessful, as whilst Tesco posted its worst festive UK trading figures in years, Asda annouced extremely positive results over the same period (albeit without going into the specifics of figures). And so, in light of this battering, Tesco responded in turn –

1,187,000 Baskets Cheaper at Tesco

Familiar, no? In my opinion, this ad represents an enormous strategic blunder from Tesco. Firstly, it’s all a bit wishy-washy – figures and raw data are hard to deny (which Asda’s ads provide in spades), but Tesco’s response seems to complicate the issue and bring averages and non-direct comparison into the debate. Over a million baskets may have been cheaper at Tesco than Asda last week, but was that because there was less in them? Were the sizes of identical goods always the same? Which baskets were left out because they contained products that were way over Asda’s prices? And which were left in because everything in them was on special offer? It may seem more “realistic” to talk about baskets of goods, but in this instance clarity wins every time, especially when it comes to branding – Asda have simplified their brand, and made its USP incredibly simple: ‘We are cheapest for branded goods’. Tesco, on the other hand, have overcomplicated theirs: ‘Well, if you look at an average basket, based on masses of data, that we have identified, you’ll see we’re cheaper’. This is thrown into even stronger relief by the masses of extremely visible smallprint that litter the ads first few seconds along the bottom of the screen.

Secondly, and far more importantly in my view, is the style of the ad itself. It just feels so similar to Asda’s ads, which have been running for a long time now, that you can’t help thinking of Asda when you see it. The tone is the same, as are the colours, as are (basically) the graphics. Essentially, Tesco have taken up the pricing debate on Asda’s terms, attempting to use Asda’s discourse against them seemingly without realising that by doing so they are losing their own voice and identity, which will only further Asda’s cause in the long run. By ceding to Asda’s rhetoric and style, Tesco have lost what made them unique in the first place, and have clearly demonstrated that, at this point in time, they are a follower brand, and not the leaders they used to be. Desperation seems to seep through the ad – ‘Look, Asda might say this, but you know, we’re actually cheaper! Please don’t abandon us!’ – it smacks of the whimpered failings of a pissed off CEO who’s taken Tesco’s recent beating far too personally and has forgotten why people come to Tesco in the first place, and is instead fixated on those few who have left, like a jilted ex-lover.

And so how have Asda responded to Tesco’s attempt to win back their erstwhile customers? Exactly as they should have…

Conservation & Recyling Help Asda Rollbacks

…by not mentioning Tesco at all. Whilst their rivals wallow in their comparisons and catchup routine, that to all intents and purposes just affirm the notion that Tesco is Asda’s bitch, Asda themselves have moved on, and are focussing on what makes them great. And crucially, what makes them great in this ad is not framed by what they are doing in comparison to anyone else. They are simply lowering their prices, saving their customers money, giving their staff high levels of input and helping to protect the environment (which also ties in nicely with their green colour scheme). Asda is the girl at the party who completely ignores the guy staring longingly from across the room, who pleads with his eyes for her to notice him but fails miserably. This is incredible brand strategy from Fallon, and shows that planning is not just about finding the right insight but applying it skillfully and at the right time. Of course, what Tesco should have done in the first place was drop their prices simply so that Asda couldn’t run its ads at all, especially as they have far greater resources at their disposal. And yet they let Asda’s goading and prodding get to them, to the extent that they wheeled out their big guns without considering what Asda’s next move would be. Like a good chess player, Asda seem to have been playing the long game all along, crafting a strategy rather than simply employing short term tactics – and Tesco are firmly in check.

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