With a hot new ad agency, what can Tesco do to turn its fortunes around? It wouldn’t drop its famous strapline, surely?

When it heard it had bagged Tesco’s £110m ad agency account last Friday, staff from ad agency Wieden + Kennedy went straight to the local Spitalfields Express, cleared the shelves of own-label Champagne and partied.

By Monday, sober, and with strict instructions not to talk about its plans, the multi award-winning agency was getting down to the serious business of helping to get to the soul of this gargantuan machine, to find out what it really means to hardworking British families. And the bone idle ones too.

So what can we expect from an agency whose roster includes fmcg giants such as Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and Arla - not to mention Honda.

Sources close to Tesco say CEO Philip Clarke is personally overseeing the rebranding, despite the announcement coming from new group marketing and digital officer Matt Atkinson, who reports to deputy CEO and marketing guru Tim Mason. Intriguingly, W+K also takes on advertising for US arm Fresh & Easy.

But it is re-inventing the brand at home that is Clarke’s biggest challenge. To suggest that Tesco’s image is tired is an understatement akin to noting there’s a small sports day starting in East London this weekend.

You can love Tesco for what it has been, for what it has meant to Britain and the British, but you can hardly love it for what it has become. Not the cheapest. Rarely the best. Friendly? Attractive? Welcoming?

“I think they will want to come up with something that is warmer and has more of an emotional connection,” said one branding guru. “I’m sure they will use digital a lot more, and they need to sort out their PR, which has been a disaster.”

But it’s the possible demise of Tesco’s ‘Every Little Helps’ strapline that has medialand most in a spin. It was so much more than a tagline: brought in by its then fresh-faced new marketing director, Terry Leahy, on his accession to the board 20 years ago, it was literally inscribed at the centre of Tesco’s much vaunted ‘steering wheel’, a balanced scorecard of now increasingly arcane complexity.

More than that, it was how Leahy liked to do business. Do lots of small things right and - wow! - a pretty average UK retailer becomes the world’s third-largest grocer. Cool!

Another Leahy creation, the mid-1990s ad campaign, starring Prunella Scales as Dotty Turnbull, brilliantly helped to demonstrate the small changes that Tesco was making. But that’s long since been dropped. And now even ‘Every Little Helps’ grates. Consumers want more, they say, than creaking puns voiced over a jaunty clarinet jingle.

Clarke is also, as we have already learned in his 15 eventful months in charge, not scared of doing things his own way. And his style is markedly different from Leahy’s. “Philip is more top-down than Terry and he wants a slogan to reflect the Clarke era,” says a former senior Tesco exec.

“I would be hugely surprised if they don’t ditch Every Little Helps,” adds a senior advertising figure.

But W+K has history when it comes to retaining old straplines. “When we pitched for Honda, they were determined we should keep the Power of Dreams strapline,” says a former senior W+K source. “We all groaned. But once we got under the skin of the company we realised that this summed up exactly what it stood for.”

W+K client history

  • Coca-Cola: Led the Coke Side of Life Campaign, a multimedia blitz featuring an online video game character putting fizz into Coke’s creative
  • Honda: The brains behind campaigns including Grr and Cog, the Rube Goldberg-esque assembly of the separate parts of a Honda
  • Procter & Gamble: Including ‘Thanks, Mom’, featuring a version of You’ll Never Walk Alone, as part of its 2010 Winter olympic campaign
  • Lurpak: Dreamt up this year’s colourful TV and outdoor campaign for the brand using a rainbow