Tesco’s clothing arm F&F has been overhauled to bring it closer to the parent brand, something that, just one year ago, it had stringently avoided in the quest to be considered a serious fashion contender. But the U-turn is beginning to bear fruit, according to its head of marketing.
Tesco’s most recent financial update shed light on the success of its year-long efforts as the retailer’s boss lauded the fashion division’s like-for-like sales hike of 3.5% in the first half of 2017.
“Supermarket fashion is really having its day,” Anna Braithwaite, F&F's head of marketing, told The Drum. “Womenswear sales are up considerably. [Some items] sell out in weeks.”
This is, in part, thanks to the decision to bring it closer to parent company Tesco. Global chief marketing officer Chris Other previously admitted that the brand had become confused and its marketing disjointed having spent years avoiding the red, white and blue branding of its parent company.
Hiring creative agency ODD 12 months ago, its first piece of repositioning work launched in April as it sought to get the 30 million customers walking through a Tesco door each week to reappraise the F&F brand.
Based on the idea of a ‘Supermarket Woman’, the campaign skillfully played on the idea that a woman would pop to the shops for a pint of milk and come home with a new dress.
The punchy ad didn’t shy from playing up F&F’s supermarket heritage, but the pop-art aesthetic kept it firmly rooted in fashion. It was so successful, that the follow up campaign, launched in August, followed the same creative path.
“Some brands tend to shy away from the fact they have a supermarket association and try and establish themselves as a credible fashion brand. We do want to do that but, at the same time, to distance ourselves from [30 million Tesco customers a week] doesn’t make sense,” said Braithwaite.
“By looking at the supermarket more head on with a wry smile and playfulness in what we’re doing, we have the opportunity to really differentiate ourselves which is something a lot of other brands just aren’t doing at the moment.”
With that in mind, F&F will soon branch out from the ‘Supermarket Woman’ concept to talk more about how many of the same products are produced in the same factories as some high street competitors.
"We have to get across the branding and aesthetic as the reason to shop in F&F. We need to unpack some of those other stories," she continued.
The supermarket fashion sector is heating up. Figures from Kantar Worldpanel suggest that supermarkets account for £3.1bn of annual clothing sales while every £1 in £10 spent on clothing in the UK goes through a supermarket till.
In the last 6 weeks alone, Sainsbury’s has taken on Savile Row in the form of a new range of men’s suiting while Lidl revealed its range of fashion fronted by supermodel Heidi Klum which sold over 100 items a minute on the day it launched.
“But so many brands on the high street, not just at lower price level, all face the challenge of trying to differentiate when really the core product is not that different shop to shop.”
Braithwaite, who joined in April from high street retailer Hobbs (after eight years in marketing roles at John Lewis), said the “attention grabbing” playfulness of F&F’s revised marketing has hit a sweet spot. It has seen a 25% uplift in brand awareness while sales of items featured soared 93% but, more importantly, it’s cemented the view that closer ties must continue to be formed between it and its parent company.
“We’ve hit the marketing and sales metrics,” she continued. Moving forward it will look to better integrate the instantly recognisable Tesco logo into its TV and out of home adverts which should “align us and make us much more robust.”
This has all come without any significant upticks in F&F’s marketing budgets or an increase in its team size. Instead, it’s been more strategic in choosing the channels that will give it the greatest returns; TV still dominates, though out of home and radio are increasingly taking a bigger slice of the pie. But the biggest shift of all is how it now fits into Tesco’s wider marketing plans.
“There’s a big test and learn programme at the moment,” Braithwaite added.
That’s being driven by the “media council” set up by Nick Ashley, poached from Mindshare to the newly created role of chief media officer earlier in the year. The council currently oversees that marketing budgets are being used “in the right way" across the core Tesco brand as well as F&F, Bank and Mobile.
“It’s early days for him and his priority is Tesco, but we share a media agency [in Mediacom]. That’s the beauty of the role and it helps us work better with our media agency,” she said.