05: Tesco (1993) – Every Little Helps

Lowe Howard-Spink

Every Little Helps’ was at the top of freelance copywriter Nick Asbury’s list when we asked industry experts to share their favourite slogans. “It’s clever because it’s rooted in folk wisdom – a saying that has been passed down through generations. Exactly the kind of thing your grandma used to say. So it carries the everyday authority of a proverb,” he argues. “It’s tonally appropriate – conversational and impossible to misunderstand. It’s strategically spot-on, because it taps into the customer’s mindset, and also works as a brilliant internal motivator. It’s about the tiny things that add up to a big difference – the penny cheaper on the baked beans, or the penny off the price you get from a supplier. Multiply tiny differences by something as big as Tesco and you have world domination.”

Created by agency Lowe Howard-Spink in 1993, ‘Every Little Helps’ is more than simply an advertising endline. Not only did it cement a down-to-earth tonality for the brand that resonated with shoppers, it also sought to place the shopper’s experience first. And nearly 20 years on, it continues to act as a guiding principle for the Tesco brand.

So how did Tesco and its then agency come up with the clever line? In a film made by Thinkbox.tv based on an IPA paper created for the 2000 IPA Effectiveness Awards for which Tesco’s ‘Every Little Helps’ campaign took the Grand Prix, Tesco’s Carolyn Bradley says that: “In the early 90s we got a bit stuck behind Sainsbury’s in terms of market share. We did an in-depth piece of research with customers looking at what we could do better for them and the ‘Every Little Helps’ campaign was absolutely born out of that work. Because what that research told us was that actually they wanted a better shopping trip.”

Armed with this research, the agency worked “alongside Tesco in creating initiatives like baby changing facilities and a ‘no-quibble’ returns policy, thereby redefining the type of service customers should expect from their shopping trip,” says Red Brick Road, the agency set up by the creatives who originally worked on the Tesco campaign and which still has Tesco as its client.“These initiatives defined Tesco’s position within the marketplace and led us to come up with the ‘Every Little Helps’ brand idea and advertising line,” adds the agency.

The earliest TV ads featuring the slogan served to advertise these particular initiatives. Babies (1993) specifically focused on Tesco’s new in-store baby changing facilities, thus showing that they understood their customers’ needs and were working towards meeting them, one step at a time.

The launch of the Clubcard in 1995 was, for Bradley, an example of just what a versatile slogan ‘Every Little Helps’ was: “You got a point for every pound spent – which amounted to a little ‘thank you’ that added up to something very meaningful,” she claims. It was in the same financial quarter that the Clubcard launched that Tesco finally overtook Sainsbury’s to become the market leader. “The Clubcard absolutely slotted into the ‘Every Little Helps’ thought,” adds Bradley, “and it was a great demonstration of how broad and flexible that proposition was.”

1995 was also the year that the TV campaign featuring Dotty (played by Prunella Scales), a fussy and particularly demanding shopper, launched. Over several years, Dotty appeared in 25 TV ads that served to consolidate the brand’s ‘Every Little Helps’ philosophy. Not only did the perennially hard-to-please Dotty always get what she wanted from her visits to Tesco, but Tesco’s shopping environments, services and staff were able to shine too, aiding recruitment.

Now ‘Every Little Helps’ appears on almost everything that Tesco does – from its TV ads to coathanger recycling bins in-store, its re-usable Bag for Life carrier bags and even till receipts.

Despite his enthusiasm for the line as a piece of writing, Asbury also alleges a certain contradiction in its meaning. “The line is a classic example of verbal misdirection,” he says. “‘Little’ ought to be the last word you associate with Tesco. You should think of them as a multinational giant crushing everything in its path. But instead they plant that word in your head, with all the folksy charm it implies. I don’t like it, but I admire it very much.”

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