Tesco: The ideology of basket dating

In the 1960s and 1970s social theorists were in agreement: advertising not only promoted specific products but also promoted a way of life (commonly called “consumerism”). The idea, put very simply, was that advertising presented some overaching messages. For example, it always presented the consumption of new products as the solution – no matter what the problem was. Ugly: buy make up. Hungry: buy a burger. Thirsty: Buy a Coke. Lonely: buy a car.

This type of analysis seems glib and outdated now. This is, for the academics out there, another way of saying top marketing journals don’t publish this kind of argument. It seems too left wing. But I think this Tesco ad is a prime target for a return to “ideology critique”.

Here we see consumers with a problem: they are lonely. The answer is not to buy something to make them happy. But to trust Tesco to analyse their shopping habits to find them the perfect partner. The subtle subtext of this ad: we know what you want better than you do.

It is entirely possible for Tesco – or more, accurately, Dunn Humbly their data provider – to match individuals based on buying behaviour. Tesco doesn’t do this for its customers. It used the data for targeted promotions and behavioural nudges (think, “How can we get people to buy more processed food/fags/alcohol?”).

I would love to see an ad showing these processes and discussions. Instead we get a silly execution with some strange “Matchmaker/Psychotherapist” who can – supposedly – figure out people’s age and sexuality from one basket. Fortunately, all the people involved have model-good looks, otherwise this might be hard to believe.

Badvertising rating: pathetic.


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