Simon Gregory, joint chief strategy officer at BBH outlines how ‘Every Little Helps’ took on a heighted relevance during COVID-19, taking us through the strategy behind the 2022 IPA Effectiveness Award-winning campaign.

Tesco is a brand built on helpfulness. From its famous Every Little Helps promise in the 90s to its ongoing mission of “Serving shoppers a little better every day”.

Indeed, a neglect of these principles contributed to brand and business struggles in the early 2010s, and a recommitment to them marked a return to success after 2015. The Grand Prix winning IPA Paper “From Running Shops to Serving Customers: The Tesco Turnaround Story” tells the story of this shift and is a best-in-class example of bringing purpose and customer-first thinking together.

However, the first COVID lockdown in March 2020 changed the relationship between Tesco and its customers (and colleagues). The Tesco operations team and 300,000 colleagues had to make their c.2,700 stores safe places to shop and work. Social distancing, one-way systems, in-store signage, traffic light systems and priority hours for the most vulnerable and NHS workers were all introduced. This fundamentally changed the role of marketing.

As before, Trust, Quality and Value were still vital drivers of store selection, but their relevancy and salience needed a new approach conscious of the changing national conditions. Their role become not just focused on serving customers, but also on serving the nation; helping them shop safely and enjoy food in unfamiliar circumstance. The helpful brand had to help on a new scale.

The importance of Trust

Edelman’s Trust Barometer notes the role for large businesses at a national level with them becoming the only ‘ethical’ and ‘competent’ institutions amongst NGOs, Government and Media. And, amongst the disarray and uncertainty in 2020, brands like Tesco stepped up and delivered

For Tesco, this meant two principles:

  • COVID had a behavioural impact on customers. This meant our response had to be behavioural too. Acts not statements.
  • How the brand helped had to be ongoing and flexible, evolving with the pandemic’s conditions

Using these principles ensured that the long-standing asset “Every Little Helps” would remain relevant, trusted and true to Tesco’s mission.

Living helpfulness in a new world

The brand embarked on a three-prong strategy:

  1. Drive trust by helping shoppers and communities navigate the new normal (store safety, enhanced online delivery, prolonged hours for the vulnerable) 
  1. Drive quality by using food to help the nation connect in a lockdown (national cook-a-longs, family recipe sharing, seasonal moments of togetherness, tips on staying healthy during lockdown, food bank aid)
  1. Drive value by helping customers access great value during tight financial times (investing in pricing, launching Tesco Clubcard prices, lockdown trading deals)

Each act supported Tesco’s “Every Little Helps” promise and, in doing so, further increased trust in the brand and its mission.

Communications played a vital role in delivering this strategy, as did the way in which Tesco used them. Shifts included an investment in advertising when others turned dark, a maintenance of a ‘long-short’ balance despite immediate pressures, working inside-out to unlock the role of colleagues and owned touchpoints, and a greater use of data to help make decisions even faster. 

Just as important to serving the nation was the introduction of a carbon calculator that allowed the brand to help by reducing media-associated emissions by 12.5% during COVID, an early commitment to and adoption of the new ISBA/PwC ‘Programmatic Supply Chain Transparency’ study, and the use of social listening to monitor customer sentiment and worries. Potentially small moves, but vital in maintaining longer term brand trust.

From purpose to action

As ever, there is much debate about the role of purpose in brands and marketing. One view may be that there is a crucial difference between being Purpose-led and Purposeful. The former points to a belief system and brand strategy but can often lead to well-meaning sentimentality and surface communications evidence of doing the right thing. The latter is more substantial and requires constant, consistent and substantial evidencing, making your mission relevant and impactful to customers and society no matter the conditions. 

By combining our mission with tangible actions Tesco not only grew brand equity – becoming one of the most trusted and helpful brands in the UK – it also significantly increased profit. In 2014 Tesco’s Operating Profit stood at -£5.33bn. By the end of FY 2022 it stood at £2.198bn. Whilst marketing cannot account for all of that shift, it has shown to offer £3.54 profit in return for every £1 invested.

A step in the right direction

There is much to still do, this case study can hopefully act as a prompt to others reconsidering the ingredients vital to their brand in today’s market:

  • Using ‘Purposeful’ behaviour to unlock Triple P objective (Profit, People, Planet)
  • The importance of trust in acting at both a customer and societal level
  • The potential of long-term thinking and assets being reinvigorated in new ways

Whilst things may not be certain in the world around us, one thing remains consistent for Tesco: Every Little Helps.

The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising established the IPA Effectiveness Awards competition in 1980. WARC subscribers can read all the case studies here, and the IPA Insights Report 2022 is available here