On a recent car trip my six year old son, Dylan, recently pointed out to me that he recognised a Sainsbury’s store, ‘because Sainsbury’s is orange’. Being a brand whore this intrigued me and I decided to quiz him further on other brands, and more specifically supermarkets.
What colour is Waitrose I asked? ‘Green daddy, dark green’, he replied. ‘And Morrisons?’, ’Yellow daddy, and green too, but just a bit’, he replied. Asda? ‘Green’. Marks & Spencer? ‘Dark green as well, I know because grandma goes there’.
He adds that ’Netflix is red’ and that ‘Sky believe in better daddy!’. He also adds that ‘Ocado doesn’t have a colour, it has fruit’, (his knowledge of the Ocado brand is purely based on the vans that deliver to our home).
Then I asked about Tesco, his reply? ‘I don’t know daddy, is it black?‘. Now, I know that I have taken him to a Tesco store on several occasions, but for some reason the branding had not registered with him.
I know that six-year-olds are not the target demographic for Tesco, but I guess that they are not exactly top of the list for the other supermarket brands either. Maybe what the others have, is more brand presence or a better connection with consumers. Tesco is often criticised for being a faceless corporation, trying to take over the world, and as the second largest retailer in the world (based on revenue), you could easily argue they are. However, they are often accused (sometimes unfairly) of single-handedly destroying our high streets and squeezing the life out of our farming industry. For this reason alone they should be on the charm offensive, they should work extra hard on getting their personality right, and addressing the negativity through brand experience. Many of our other large supermarket chains are equally guilty of the same practises, but deflect it with brand experience, mask it with personality, and offset it with high profile CSR activity.
Obviously a six year old is unaware of the negative (or positive) press a brand might receive and all that surrounds it. A six year old is free to simply judge branding at face value and purely as a cosmetic solution, which is fascinating. Sometimes we could all benefit from looking at the world through the eyes of a child – that simple clarity, free from the white noise of our busy lives and corporate spin voodoo. They don’t over think things, they just say it as they see it, and it is beautiful to witness.
A company’s branding is not only the delivery mechanism for their personality, but also the cosmetic veneer that envelops the brand experience and the company’s culture. Tesco has several aspects to its brand that buck the trend of most supermarket branding rules. But are they really faceless? I would say no, but as the brand is so sterile it is borderline generic, and so their face is forgettable. Bland would be a more accurate description, over brand. Now, this may be a deliberate ploy, based on market research or focus groups, but Tesco do little (visually) to make you warm to them as a consumer. This is bad news when you consider that branding is usually an all important first impression a company has on a potential customer.
So, is it the branding?
Tesco has traditionally always used red and blue on white as their brand colours. Patriotic as this is, it feels sterile and cold. The blue headlines on white feel corporate or medical, not enticing and welcoming. As a brand, it lacks the warmth of Sainsbury’s orange and the tradition and prestige of Waitrose green. In fact, all it communicates is blandness and almost a lack of effort to connect with customers in a meaningful way. A warmer colour would go a long way towards injecting passion and warmth into their frosty appearance, and maybe even make them more emotive and human in the eyes of potential customers.
The clothes that their words wear.
The expanded serif typeface is overly spiky and angular, it feels tired and dated (not traditional), more appropriate for the signage on a medieval castle carved into stone, rather than a family supermarket. The use of capitals is SHOUTY, and it doesn’t have the warmth and personality of many of the other supermarkets. Ironically the softer Clarendon typeface that Tesco traditionally used is now embraced by several supermarkets, mainly because it has personality and a certain bounciness to it, that softens the message it is communicating. Competitors like Sainsbury’s use serif typography but it is softer and more flowing with its rounded bowls and tapered serifs, the use of lowercase is more personable and friendly. Waitrose use an elegant and rounded sans-serif that feels minimal and elegant to underpin their premium positioning. That is why the choice of typeface is a key part of any branding project, it is the accent with which your words speak, and it speaks volumes about your brand.
Tesco lacks a face or a recognisable personality that we, as consumers, can associate with, and align ourselves to. Jamie Oliver made Sainsbury’s feel like a friendly, food-focussed company that had your best interests at heart. Jamie brought passion and creativity to their customer experience. Tesco would benefit from a shot in the arm of celebrity juice from an appropriate brand ambassador (think Jamie Oliver, not Kerry Katona). Aldi has developed a cult-like status by having great personality and a sense of humour that people warm to.
Obviously a company is much much more than simply how it looks. It is about culture, experience, product and most importantly people. I am not claiming that the negativity surrounding Tesco is because of their branding, far from it, but I don’t think the branding is doing enough to win customers over and shift the perception of the company. In summary, Tesco is getting a lot of little things wrong, adding up to a dysfunctional brand experience, which consumers are failing to connect with, other than simply convenience of location and price. As Tesco claim ‘Every little helps’ but in this case, every little hurts, particularly in the eyes of a six year old.