Tesco is ubiquitous in British family life - whether it is selling you its food, financial services, mobile networks, broadband, or furniture, or providing computers and sports equipment for children's schools. But is the UK's biggest retailer catching the cold that appears to be spreading in the economic climate?
Tesco has been furiously price- cutting against rivals such as Asda and Sainsbury's, and with the addition of 350 products to its Value and own-label ranges, it has reinvented itself as 'Britain's biggest discounter'. Yet with so many claims, it takes a savvy consumer to work out which of the quarrelling multiples offers better value.
Not everyone is convinced by Tesco's repositioning. Last month, Colin Mechan of design agency FLB told Marketing: 'People don't understand where the discount brands fit with Tesco's other ranges.'
Although a spokeswomen denied that the ranges were performing poorly, it is indisputable that multiples traditionally associated with value, such as Aldi and Netto, have stolen a march on Tesco, while its mainstream peers Sainsbury's and Asda have held onto or even grown their market share.
So is there anything in this slight slide in Tesco's share that is indicative of problems to come? We asked George Prest, creative director at Lowe London, who has previously worked on the Tesco business, and Christian Cull, customer communications director at BSkyB and a former marketing director at Waitrose, for their views.
Diagnosis Two industry experts advise Tesco on how to regain its brand value
George Prest, creative director, Lowe London
Tesco. It's part of the furniture, isn't it?
It can't be doing badly - it's an untouchable brand, a golden goose, a given, an icon, a veritable bell of the weather. Like M&S, BA and the BBC.
And there it is. Tesco can be doing badly. No brand is untouchable. Givens can be taken away. Icons can fade. And the golden goose will lay a turd if it's not fed and watered properly.
I've always thought that value alone is a delicate positioning for a supermarket. Value plus something else, yes, but just value is a tightrope to walk.
It's fine if you're an unashamed Asda or a pants-down Lidl. But if you're Tesco, with aspirations to the aristocracy, it's a tough spot to be. 'Every little helps' is a truly great line, but there's no flex in it - at least, not in the way that Tesco sets out its stall at the moment.
Value gets boring after a while, but consider such messages as value plus fresh (Morrisons), value plus quality (Waitrose), and value plus discovery (Sainsbury's). They give breadth.
Tesco got away with it when it was doing those charming press ads that wrapped the value message in wit and charm and self-depreciation. However, that seems to have gone now. It has been replaced by puns and shoutiness. And when you shout, weirdly, people don't listen.
- Make a choice. Get off the fence. Either join the Lidls of this world whole-heartedly or invest time and brain-power in broadening the brand idea.
- If broadening the idea is the choice, go back to entertainment and rediscover that charming tone of voice.
- Differentiate ads from those of other value retailers - at the moment, they are all same-ish and run together.
Christian Cull director of customer communications, BSkyB
Marketing commentators are always keen to attribute Tesco's ascendency to... guess who? Marketers, of course.
But it was lawyers, land law and competition law that won it pre-eminence. Tesco's famous house of Clubcards would collapse under its own ambition without the massive land bank underpinning its foundations.
Then there's that 'Tesco backlash' nonsense. Most people like Tesco, as much as a vocal minority loathes it.
Scoff if you like, but you scorn a nation if you do so. Who else gives Tesco £1 in every £7 spent? The people who know they are rarely more than an arm's reach from a Tesco - well done, legal team.
True, Tesco should not have pointed out the size of its share of wallet itself. But even when it did, its share still went up. So much for hubris.
Besides, Tesco has much in its armoury to win the long game. Its ability to segment is second to none, and it has the trust of millions. That's gold dust - others can keep their magic and sparkle.
So thank customers kindly, like good shopkeepers should. Then the marketers can really take their place at the front of the queue for laurels.
- No more blinkered price wars with Asda. Last year Morrisons came in from leftfield, upped the ante, and had a very merry Christmas, thank you very much.
- Build on 'Every little helps'. There is no greater line in advertising history. Nothing in the sector comes close - so imbue it with more warmth.
- People need to trust the brand more than ever. Show them that Tesco has all they need, at the right price - but do so with humility.
This article was first published on Marketing