Lidl seizes its moment to make play while the sun shines

Print ads rarely grab my attention, but this one did. It’s by Lidl, one of the upstarts in the grocery sector. (Click on it to read).

lidl-sun-advertThe brand was taking a smart swipe at Morrisons’ new loyalty card scheme –  ‘Match & More’ – that promises to price match your shopping against  Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco as well as Aldi and Lidl. Here’s a snippet  of what it says:

  • Go to the Morrisons website
  • Find the ‘loyalty card scheme’ page
  • Set up your online account
  • Create memorable password
  • Hand over some ‘minor details’ about your self such as name, last name, email and postcode
  • Etc. etc.

A brilliant bit of writing (well done TBWA) and a brilliant bit of sniping.  Beware Goliaths when you take a pot shot at a David that is growing in scale and confidence. They won’t take it lying down.

We are seeing a pretty seismic shift in the UK grocery landscape. According to the most recent Kantar figures for October 2014, Tesco’s sales have slipped by 3.6% versus a year ago. By contrast, Lidl’s sales increased by 18.3%. Recent data suggests that around one in two of us Brits now shop at Lidl or Aldi. Only a few years ago, shopping at the new breed of European discounter would have been sniffed at.  Today, there’s a certain amount of pride associated with making such a smart choice.

TBWA have caught this headwind perfectly with their confident and playful ad. They know that the public’s mood is moving more in their favour, and the hold on their purse strings that the big supermarkets have had is loosening. They are shopping more often, across more stores.

They’ve been issuing some other playful jabs recently. When a Sainsbury’s employee inadvertently put a poster meant for the staff room in the shop window the other week (encouraging staff to get their customers to spend 50p more), Lidl were quick to pounce.

Screen shot 2014-10-20 at 21.51.25 50pchallenge

The brand probably has a moment in which to make hay and practice the ‘dark arts’ of competitive advertising, particularly when it’s done this elegantly. That’s because its brand has momentum, and is playing the role of consumer champion, against competitors who look increasingly out of touch.

It harkens back a bit to some of the brilliant work that RKCR/Y&R produced for Virgin Atlantic back in the day, poking fun at British Airways.

Screen shot 2014-10-21 at 20.31.11What’s interesting is that if you just look at these tactical ads, you might see the conventional and rather cliched challenger narrative at play.  A feisty upstart brand picks a fight with a complacent establishment brand.

However, what LIDL and TBWA are actually doing is far more sophisticated than this, and closer to what Adam Morgan talks about in relation to a new generation of challenger brands in his book Overthrow: 10 ways to tell the challenger story.  LIDL isn’t just defining itself by what it’s not. It’s also communicating what it is, through its brilliant campaign ‘Lidl Surprises.’ In its TV campaign the brand courageously tackles the cynicism of non-shoppers head on, taking the opportunity to surprise the viewer with the unexpected quality of its products, at fantastic prices, cleverly tapping into the Farmer’s Market zeitgeist (to semiotically root the brand in food values).

Screen shot 2014-10-21 at 21.14.31

But what’s really great about the campaign is how it’s co-opted Lidl customers to do the evangelising for them, through social media.  Customers now encouraged to share their story on twitter using the hashtag ‘lidl surprises’.  Selected tweets are printed onto POS banners in-store. What comes through is a real sense of pride, even defence, in how their customers tweet about the experience.

Screen shot 2014-10-16 at 05.31.52

This is the behaviour of what Morgan calls a ‘Next Generation challenger.’ A brand that manages to position the incumbent(s) as perfect for yesterday. These brands use advertising, social and PR in a way that feels more than just advertising – to make them feel part of contemporary culture.  Lidl, by giving a voice to its own customers is making us all feel that we’re missing out by not shopping there.

There’s a playfulness to Lidl’s communications that is refreshing.  The brand has the space and permission to adopt this position because at this moment its star is in the ascendent. If it was purely relying on competitive antagonism to convey its message it would soon get old and would start looking a tad arrogant and cocky.  Luckily, there’s more substance to its messaging than that.



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