A reply from Tesco

A few months ago I wrote this open letter Philip Clarke, the Chief Executive of Tesco PLC, requesting that they review their advertising spend with the Daily Mail after the newspaper published a horrible piece by Richard Littlejohn that suggested we shouldn’t sympathise with the victims of the Japanese tsunami because we were once at war with them. A month or so after writing it I still hadn’t received a reply so sent a hard-copy to Philip’s office. I prefaced it with the following text:

Dear Philip,

This letter is concerning an open letter I wrote to you on my blog, NeilCocker.com, on the 23rd March. In the days following its publication it was read by thousands of people, tweeted and blogged about by many more people, and I was interviewed for a number of articles. It also very rapidly rose to the top of most searches on Google for any combination of the words “Philip” “Clarke” “CEO” & “Tesco”. In other words, the first thing people see on Google when they search for you is this letter.

I received what can only be described as a half-hearted response from the team that runs your Facebook page and in the six weeks since I wrote it, despite you not being able to ignore the many hundreds of tweets you would have received, I have received absolutely no response from you.

So, I’m copying the open letter below in the hope that you will respond to a hard copy. But I’m adding a further request. Please don’t be one of those companies that thinks that just by having a Facebook page you’re “engaging with social media”. Responding rapidly, relevantly, and in full has always been the key to good PR. And that’s true of social media too, especially when an ever increasing percentage of your customers are using it as their primary means of communicating with the world. You wouldn’t ignore 1000 letter writers, so why are you ignoring a thousand people who are communicating with you through Twitter?

I received a written reply about three weeks later, which I have copied below:

Dear Mr Cocker

Thank you for your letter addressed to Philip Clarke, our Chief Executive, to which I have been asked to respond.

May I take this opportunity to advise you that we advertise in a great many places including websites, magazines, newspapers, radio and TV. Our advertising is never intended as an endorsement of the views expressed in any of the places where we advertise. Our advertising is solely intended to raise awareness of our products and services.

I am sorry you are disappointed we responded to your comments on Twitter via Facebook. As there are limitations in the amount of characters you can use to convey a message in Twitter, we felt a tweet with a link to our reply on Facebook was the most effective way of replying to you.

Thank you for writing,

Your sincerely,

Frances Hickling

Let’s address a minor detail first – I never received a tweet from Tesco. And as far as I’m aware the only post on Facebook wasn’t exactly a reply to me as it was to a friend of mine who’d posted my letter to the Tesco Facebook page.

But most importantly I’m disappointed by the fact that Tesco gave such an utterly, uttery pathetic response. The fact that they couldn’t see that they are, whether they like it or not, endorsing the Daily Mail. To endorse is to approve, support or sustain (or so I’m told by Dictionary.com). Whether they approve of the Daily Mail’s horrible rhetoric or not, I don’t know. But they are certainly supporting and sustaining it through advertising revenue.

The thing is, I was so disheartened by Tesco’s dismissive missive that I’d forgotten all about it and haven’t replied or, until this point, published it. But now with this new News Of The World phone-hacking scandal, social media appears to have caused Ford to suspend advertising with NOTW, and Halifax and NPower to consider their options.

So, the moral of the story is that we SHOULD be telling advertisers that we don’t want them to advertise with newspapers that spread messages of hate, or use dispicable tactics to get their stories. I can’t wait to see if this is the tipping point, where advertisers realise the power of social media and start taking it seriously.

The fire around this story is growing and as I sit here watching BBC News 24 there seems to be a new development every few minutes. And there’s no doubt that Twitter is fanning the flames.

2 responses to “A reply from Tesco”

  1. I think this sums up the ethics of two high street retailers. Both statements were made on the same day:

    The Co-operative Group: “The Co-operative Group has taken the decision to suspend temporarily any further advertising and promotional activity with the News of the World until the outcome of the investigation is known. The Group is a consumer-owned business which adheres to strong ethical standards. These allegations have been met with revulsion by the vast majority of members who have contacted us.”

    Tesco: “These latest allegations will cause huge distress to a family which has suffered enough. It’s now a matter for the police; like everyone, we await the outcome of their investigation.”

    The Co-op took a direct and responsible step… Tesco just gave us words.

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