Before you show, do.


Or, what ham taught me about proper brand building.

Recently I was in one of our 'Know Thyself' workshops and a client made a throwaway remark that “You need to earn the right to advertise.”

The phrase stuck with me.

The notion that brands need to prove themselves before actively going out into the world fishing for potential customers goes against the simple formula for success:

Brand -> Ads -> Sales

That’s how it works, doesn’t it?

But "prove themselves"… to whom?

And how?

Ironically, maybe the answer is; they need to prove themselves to themselves?  


A lot of our work at 50 Crates involves building (often rebuilding) organisations and the brands they represent from the inside out. Our processes are designed to strip away the nonsense, identify what makes you relevant to real people in the real world, and firstly align all business units behind a unique belief.

It doesn’t work in reverse. At least in the long run. I may bite once or twice, but I won’t want to belong.

This mistake is made constantly by brands, too hungry to produce glittering ‘content’ and ‘storytelling’ without doing the hard soul searching first.


If OPSM are trying to sell me uber-cool style...

 …why are their stores the least cool place I can think of hanging out in? Staffed by people who I’d rather get to sort my tax than advise me on what’s stylish…



To be fair to the OPSM staff, it's not their fault. It's the people running the brand that could use better vision.

It's been said, that (brand) strategy is the revolution, and everything else is tactics.

But even those tactics have a natural order.

It’s pointless if your ads are telling me one thing, but the dude behind the counter is showing me the opposite. As a customer, I see through your bullshit.

The implementation of strategy – proper consumer-lead brand strategy – requires a balance of both internal and external forces; one doesn't really work without the other. The most memorable ads won't save you from a terrible customer service experience, whilst the best product will sit on shelves slowly expiring if no one hears about it.

Maybe my client had a point? He didn't feel their brand had done the work. Walked the walk. Earned the right.

A few years ago, I was living and working in London. My main client at the time was Tesco; the giant supermarket chain.

My colleagues at Wieden & Kennedy had won the account with a strategic and creative platform all based around the proposition: “For the love of food.”

The job was to communicate how Tesco respected food, ultimately reshaping people’s perception of Tesco and building a shared belief in our love of real food.

It’s Brand Strategy 101, but even the easy work is hard when you’re dealing with the third biggest retailer in the world.


My part of the project was to lead the instore transformation. If Tesco was going to talk the talk, they needed to walk the walk in their brand temple, the stores. And so I spent a lot of time in Cheshunt — where Tesco HQ is, as well as their flagship store -- which we used as our living, breathing blueprint for the real-world implementation of our strategy.

We partnered with behavioural scientists, retail planning consultants, merchandising experts, suppliers, farmers… our team was pretty crackerjack.

We got to work re-envisioning the tone of voice across every touchpoint. And I mean, literally everything from a shelf strip in the frozen pea section to the trolley return bay in the carpark.

At one point deep into the project, we even suggested renaming the cat food section to just “Meow Meow”. The immense scale of the project was clearly taking its toll on everyone because the client actually went with it! Delirium.


At the same time the main campaign was in full swing. Big TV ads, huge amounts of print. In true Wieden’s fashion; clever, and exquisitely crafted. They made you feel something. They made Tesco look new, fresh, better.


The ads were getting a lot of positive attention. Yet, our instore project was far from finished.


One typical rainy day in Cheshunt, our team of experts (and me, ha!) were standing in our mega Tesco store debating the grocery experience; repositioning entire sections, how people move through it, making the fresh food area feel like a marketplace, food demos, chalkboard specials, dynamic creative that changes with the seasons and/or weather, specialist staff who were more like a fantastic waiter than a shelf stacker. All that kind of good stuff and much more.

As we were meeting, a Tesco employee passed by pushing an actual wheelbarrow.

Towering inside it were dozens of shrink-wrapped hams. Piled high.

‘Scuse me. He politely asked the group.

Unaware, we’d been stood talking beside a large, bright yellow, empty trough.

The employee summoned their strength and hoisted the wheelbarrow up, sending the tower of hams pouring into the 2x2m metal box on the floor.

For the love of food? No, nope, not even close.

This couldn’t be further from the shiny brand images we were putting all over TV and outdoor.

It wasn’t the agency’s fault. No matter the intent, or creativity, or the tireless work we’d all done and planned to do… ultimately Tesco themselves weren't ready.

They weren’t committed to the promise they were spruiking.

As the Cheshunt locals shuffled around us with their trolleys, I looked at the mound of hams and realised… we are fucked.

They hadn’t earned the right.


Written by Age Conte, Head of Brand Development @ 50 Crates.

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