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Tesco’s got its hat on

December 21, 2014

I love the little green hat over the Tesco ‘O’. When the store first introduced these little illuminated decorations, back in 2012, I was utterly charmed. That hat signified real creativity, showed Tesco had a sense of humour, and was prepared to spend a significant amount of money on making its customers happy at Christmas. I bet all the other supermarket chains were kicking themselves, and their respective PR companies, for not having thought of it first.

In the run up to Christmas last year, I wondered if they would do it again – perhaps the hat would be a different colour, perched jauntily on a different letter, or changed entirely to something else – a snowflake or a bobble hat perhaps. But it remained the same (fair enough – Christmas decorations cost money, and if we’re allowed to dust off the same tired old lights and tinsel retrieved from the attic each year, so too should Tesco). And by doing it two years’ running, it set a precedent, a tradition. You can imagine how the PR person pitched it – suggesting that in ten years’ time perhaps people would look back on their childhoods and say “you always knew it was close to Christmas when the Tesco hat came on”. It was a win.

But this year, I’m a little cynical. The hat went up, as has now become usual, at the beginning of November, signalling to all for miles around that Tesco was open for Christmas business, piling its shelves high with festive goodies that would be bought and eaten before advent had even begun, shining its bright cosy beacon over the competition, who remained sullenly under-dressed – no orange reindeer from Sainsbury, or yellow Ant and Dec cut outs for Morrison’s. And days later, this.

Maybe I’m just a cynic, but when your first thought is ‘that’s a clever marketing campaign’, rather than ‘what a lovely gesture’, surely the campaign in question is a bit of an own goal. The story behind the advert goes that Claire Hannah, a happily photogenic ‘Wigan girl’, tweeted Tesco to express her disappointment that her local store didn’t have a hat. (It wasn’t the only one, there are over 3,000 Tesco stores in the UK and only 700 have hats.) Tesco listened carefully and instead of merely acting upon customer feedback, and erecting a hat on the Wigan store this year, went the extra mile* and staged a full-on light show for 800 of the town’s most photogenic, well-behaved general public. For eight hours. In October. Featuring a 78 metre screen, one million LED lights, dancing elves, and the happy and proud face of Ms Hannah, the advert ‘went viral’ (a spurious notion these days, when ‘going viral’ merely involves the Tesco PR team paying Facebook a fortune to make it appear, unwanted or otherwise, in millions of people’s timelines as a ‘suggested post’) and we were all informed that Tesco had acted on customer feedback and made a fun and useful gesture to the people of Wigan, whose Christmas just wouldn’t be complete without an eight hour photo shoot from the UK’s favourite retailer. Plus, all us living down south got to see what ‘up north’ looked like at Christmas (October).

My apologies for my cynicism. I like the green Tesco hat. It lights up my journey to work on a cold December morning, acting as a reminder that, with four days to go, I really should stock up on sausage rolls and bulk buy aspirin and rennies. But it was its understatedness that I liked – no fuss, no scaffolding, just magically appearing one morning like an early Christmas present. YouTube videos (including the ubiquitous ‘making of’ film) just reeks of ‘look at us, we are so good to our customers, we even listen to what they say’, and you can only imagine the pat on the back, and large retainer, the ‘people behind the 2012 Olympics’ got for their genius idea. It cheapens it, if anything, which unfortunately cannot be said for the supermarket’s approach to its prices this year. You’ve got to wonder how many other tweets were sent, complaining that other stores didn’t have a hat. And how seriously those complaints were taken if no good photo opportunity could be found.

The turf war between the big supermarkets is being hard fought at the moment, and it will be interesting to see if any of Tesco’s rivals use a similar ‘we listen to our customers on social media’ approach in the new year. But I suspect Sainsbury will continue to embarrass itself with leaked employee-only posters, whilst Aldi chuckles all the way to the piggy bank. And I shan’t be sad to see the little green hat go, especially if the contractors who so skilfully and efficiently erected them manage to take them down without making a song and a dance about it (or God forbid, a time-lapse video). Oh.

*every little helps

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