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Shopping With...

By The Drum | Administrator

May 28, 2003 | 9 min read

Ever wondered which brands leading marketing directors go for when they take their weekly trips to Tesco? No? Well, we have, and we thought it might make a revealing ‘Hello-esque’ type of feature.

Labouring under this illusion, we managed to persuade A-list marketer Julian Neal of Phones 4u, who will spend a whopping £16m at the marketing services checkout this year, to get through £50 of our hard earned cash at his local supermarket.

The resultant (over-budget) spending spree revealed a character who is occasionally prone to brand loyalty, doesn’t know much about air fresheners and, rather bizarrely, has a lot of time for people who rap about plumbing. Confused? You will be.

Location: Tesco, Handforth

Date: 14 May

Time: 9:35 a.m.

From the outset Neal seems to know exactly what he wants. Less than a minute after picking up our ‘wonky wheels’ for the day he’s standing in the pharmacy section, eyes alight with passion, Dictaphone tape whirring gently in hand. The subject of his enthusiasm is not what you usually associate with the words “pharmacy section” and “passion”. Quite the opposite in fact – Mr Neal is eyeing up headache pills.

“Look at that,” he says, face beaming, finger gesticulating in the direction of the Nurofen packs.

“What a great brand. The packaging just shouts out that it’s going to work; the silver looks effective, the icon is nice and look at that ‘targeted pain relief’ – fantastic, just what you want if you’ve got a headache.”

He briefly switches his attention to the Tesco own-brand headache pills. “I mean, look at these. They’ve got the same amount of the active ingredient, ibuprofen, and they’re only 37p. So I’ve got a choice, £2.49 or 37p and, you know what, I’m going to stick with £2.49. Why? Because I’ve got a headache and I can’t afford to take a chance, I want relief now and that says ‘targeted pain relief’. It’s spot on.”

The rather attractive packaging is the final bit of visual flirting that steals Mr Neal’s heart, as basically the container looks almost like a mobile phone. “Well, what more could I want,” he says, as the silver package hits the trolley and we move on.

Finding ourselves in the realm of the razor we come across the Gillette Mach3 Turbo and Neal looks almost sheepish. “I have to admit that I use this stuff, despite the cheesy advertising. I mean ‘the best a man can get’ it’s obviously not, but I have to say that it works.”

Taking me slightly off guard he proclaims, “It’s like Hitler.” Excuse me? “Well, it’s similar to the Nazi propaganda: if you tell a big enough lie often enough then people eventually believe it. I think Gillette has been hammering home its message for so long now that it’s actually taken hold.” We both nod in agreement and goose step off towards the next aisle.

As with the Nurofen, the Pot Noodle display provides a catalyst for a distinctly enthusiastic reaction within our happy shopper. “Brilliant,” he says, “Pot Noodle, their advertising is absolutely superb and that’s the reason I’m picking one of these.

“In my opinion, their campaigns have been amongst the best of the past year or so. The ‘slag of all snacks’ was pure quality, it cut through superbly and they’ve continued at that level with the Posh Noodle campaign.”

“They’re achieving real standout and people must be buying this in their droves. As it’s a bit more expensive they’re probably getting good margins too, and fair play to them.”

With that, we provide them with another nice margin, despite the fact that Neal freely admits to not actually liking the product itself. Now, that is effective advertising.

The next addition to our shopping trolley calls out to Neal like a siren’s song. Resistance proves futile and our little metal vessel is quickly dashed against an outcrop of big red Heinz bottles. “Well, what can I say,” he says. “Heinz Tomato Ketchup, it’s just an absolute classic. It’s simply a desirable product in its own right and this is one instance where I would freely admit to paying a premium for the right brand.”

“I’m definitely loyal to this,” he purrs, apparently smitten as he strokes his precious bounty. “The packaging is as timeless as the product itself.”

Eventually he shakes himself free from this brand-induced reverie and we push our craft back into the FMCG sea and sail off for some biscuits.

“Well, I’ve never seen these before, but they’ve certainly caught my eye. The packaging is really strong, nice colours and an interesting shape, and I have to say the product appeals.” He picks the box of Jaffa Cake Mini Roll Bites up off the shelf. “That’s great, and when you look at the back it gets even better.” He quotes, “ ‘Tear down the door for a quick snack to share with friends’. Isn’t that brilliant? I want to rip them open and have one now.”

“Shall we have a couple in the car park later?” he asks, as they touch down in the trolley. An offer that, despite my enthusiastic agreement, never actually comes to fruition.

For one of the most surprising purchases of the day, a Big Brovaz CD, our marketing supremo comes out with easily the most bizarre justification of our Tesco trip. “Well, I saw them on Graham Norton last night. They were rapping about plumbing and they made it sound good, so all credit to them.” Right then ... not much more we can say about that.

“Now, this is a market that I expect you and I know absolutely nothing about,” admits Neal as he plucks a Tesco Citrus Zest Air Freshener off the shelf.

“Looking at the product range, I’m just confused, but seeing as my house does need freshening up, I’ll do something about it.”

A moment’s cogitation and Neal’s eyes drift down towards the own brand products. “Now, in this instance I imagine most of these do the same thing, so I’m looking at the one that says ‘everyday low price’, which is just what I want. There you go, 58p, it’s half the price of the brands that are on special offer and you get two instead of one – now that is a bargain.”

A quick glance at the Air Wick range leads to a discussion about the ‘click and spray ad’ where the small boy ‘makes a smell’ and various bathroom characters hold their noses. Neal likes this but thinks it’s an opportunity lost. “If we’d made it, it would have been a guy in his 20s in there after a night on the curry,” he smirks. “Then an attractive girl would have walked in straight after.”

I can see it now: “Ashamed of your stench? We’ve got the right odour for you.” A thought that makes me think – “Yes, you’re right ... we know nothing about this market.”

Now for a brand that gives Neal wings. “Red Bull is a fantastic brand that’s been marketed brilliantly,” he says, with an energy that suggests you just have to look at the product to receive a hit. “They’ve created an energy drink and made it an integral part of pub and club culture. The loyalty it enjoys is incredible; people talk about the product, they want the product and they ask for it by brand name alone.

“In this case, Tesco’s look like they’ve done a good job of copying it, but that does nothing for me – I want the Red Bull, and other people will too.”

And finally to the ‘real’ drinks aisle.

“Ah, the booze section, here’s where we should have spent most of the money,” says Neal.

After a brief chat about the validity of taking the other products back, Neal rejects the idea and soldiers on with admirable restraint. An angular glass soon attracts his attention; “Hoegaarden, a great beer and one I drink if I’m at home or out in the pub. In this case you also get a ‘unique branded glass’, which really is the ultimate clincher for this deal.”

“As someone who likes the brand and loves the product, that glass has real desirability for me. It oozes the brand values, it is unique and as I’ve already got four more at home I’m keen to add to my collection.”

He certainly isn’t as keen on Tesco’s Value Cider, which elicits an “Oh, dear” and “I don’t have to tell you what that looks like, do I?” We trundle on to the final aisle and the wine, as Neal continues to comment on that bottle of unsightly yellow liquid, “And they’re still asking £1.48 for it. I can’t believe it ...”

A product that sports its yellow hue with considerably more sartorial elegance turns out to be the final purchase of the day – Wolf Blass Yellow Label Cabernet Sauvignon. This, according to Neal, is “a cracking bottle of wine”, but as it transpires this is not the defining reason for his choice:

“I picked up one of these the other day. The packaging’s beautiful, as you can see, but what really works is the text on the back. It explains the history of the winery and, more importantly, the man that started it, Wolf Blass himself. It’s a great story and it creates a real empathy with the brand. It allows you to get involved with the wine and you really want to enjoy it. It’s a great selling technique.”

Pleased with his choice, our consummate consumer opines: “Normally, I tend to think you can get a good bottle of wine for around £5, but I do like to treat myself sometimes.” Especially when you’re not paying, eh, Mr Neal?

And with that we head to the checkout to find that the bill has surpassed our £50 limit by £7.66 – almost exactly the price of a bottle of Wolf Blass Yellow Label.

Cheers, Julian.

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