Copycat Campaigns – Tesco Take Inspiration from Burger King for Lockdown Ad.

There’s been a lot of buzz the last few days around Tesco’s latest campaign, encouraging the public to turn their attention to local pubs following the ease in lockdown rules this week.

Tesco really meant business with this ad, showing it across social media, full page spreads in a number of national newspapers and on digital billboards. It’s a strange sight to see, a multi-million pound industry giant, asking customers to turn their attention elsewhere. But it isn’t the first time we’ve seen something like this during the last 12 months.

You Can’t Eat With Us

In November 2020, Burger King took to social media with their stark messaging, asking customers to support their rivals, including massive names like McDonalds, KFC and Subway, while their stores remained closed.

A very clever move on Burger Kings part, but I remember at the time thinking the messaging was slightly off. Everywhere you looked, there was an outpouring from struggling smaller businesses, encouraging the public to shop local. So why didn’t Burger King take the opportunity to point their finger in the direction of local businesses, rather than their industry rivals?

Sure, the campaign does mention ‘other independent food outlets’, but the focal point of the messaging is very much centralised around McDonalds and the other big brand names they list in their ad, but if there was ever a time to encourage a sense of community amongst the smaller players in the game, that was it.

Overall, the ad was received well. It was a tactic very rarely seen, and a lot of consumers were happy to see a somewhat vulnerable side of the brand. But there was an undercurrent of skepticism, with many calling out Burger King for attempting to score some points as the good guys of the fast-food world.

So when Tesco released their ad, essentially piggybacking off the back of Burger King’s sentiment, they made sure to get their messaging spot on.

Tesco Get It Right

The tone of the message, the simplicity of the imagery, the purposeful sentiment behind it all seemed to fit into place. It felt like a genuine message of encouragement for local businesses, which is something the world really needs right now.

Let’s face it, Tesco have some cash to spare, with Statista reporting a spend of £81m on advertising in 2020 alone. But even so, the cost of producing and distributing an ad actively discouraging sales for the company must have felt very bizarre for BBH creators Daniel Seager and Richards Biggs.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that Burger King did it first.

So what are the rules on copycat campaigns? Are there any rules at all?

It feels like it’s becoming more and more popular for brands to bounce off one another, particularly on social media (Twitter and TikTok seem to be the main playing fields). Brands poking fun at each other, encouraging playful dialogue and encouraging customers to join in – it’s been an interesting way to see huge businesses utilizing the social aspect of digital media.

But there is a distinct difference in using a rival’s ad to create a humorous rebuttal, and simply copy/pasting an existing idea. That sentiment of ‘you can copy my homework, but don’t make it look like you’ve copied my homework’ comes to mind.

Should Copycatting Be An Acceptable Tactic?

It feels like a very grey area which has no right or wrong answer, because it will always depend of the level of integrity a brand maintains while undertaking a copycat campaign. If it’s done right, positive coverage can be gained for both sides. If it goes wrong, it could be disastrous, not just in the short term, but it could also massively impact the reputation of the brand.

It’s no doubt that both ads brought a level of positive coverage to both brands, but it’s interesting to see how by changing just a few words, one campaign can be met with murmurings of skepticism, where as another is heralded as an example of excellent community relations.

It’s pointless to disregard the fact that the best pool of inspiration for PR activity comes from what’s around us – including our competitors. But I think copycat tactics should be employed with the greatest of care and integrity.

After all, the most sincere form of flattery is imitation, right?

What did you think about Tesco’s ad? Did it have a bigger impact on you than Burger King’s? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Until next time,


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