Tesco in the doghouse over Christmas puppy plea

Tesco has come under fire this week after the launch of its new Christmas gift catalogue, which features a picture of a child next to a handwritten message on a chalkboard asking for a puppy for Christmas.

The advertising watchdog has received scores of complaints from outraged customers and animal charities who think the retailer has acted irresponsibly.

Tesco's Christmas 2013 campaign

Tesco’s Christmas 2013 campaign

Complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) focus on the fact that it flies in the face of the long-standing ‘a dog is for life, not just for Christmas’ campaign – which aims to reduce the amount of dogs given as presents and then abandoned shortly after the festive period.

This is the latest in a long line of errors of judgement by major supermarket brands.

Only last month ASDA hit the headlines for stocking a ‘mental patient’ costume in the run up to Halloween. Although ASDA quickly apologised, removed the items from stock and made donations to mental health charities, there’s no getting away from the fact that the supermarket was the top news story for 24–36 hours. So it begs the question about whether ‘all publicity is good publicity’.

Some brands have been built on the back of controversial advertising and using marketing tactics that deliberately set out to shock. Here’s a few of the ASA’s top ten most complained about adverts:

  • KFC’s TV advert featuring call centre workers eating with their mouths full
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bt4Mmu6iXZA
  • Paddy Power’s blind footballers and the cat TV advert
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ispFw6THxtg
  • The Christian Party’s ‘There definitely is a God’ campaign, which featured adverts on buses

    Christian Party's ads on buses

    Christian Party’s ads on buses

  • The British Safety Council’s posters featuring an image of the pope and the slogan ‘Thou shalt always wear a condom’
  • Yves St Laurent’s poster campaign featuring a naked picture of model Sophie Dahl for its Opium perfume range

    The Yves St Laurent poster

    The Yves St Laurent poster

I would argue that the brands mentioned above knew exactly what they were doing with those campaigns and their reputations were enhanced as a result. And that’s fine because their irreverent approach to advertising marries with the brand values.

In the case of Tesco, it appears that they are the victims of a marketing department oversight, as its brand is squarely aimed at families trying to make the most of their weekly shopping and its advertising is usually on the safe side.

I have some sympathy for Tesco as I know first-hand the complexities of producing such comprehensive catalogues and, if it hasn’t already done so, I expect there’ll be a ‘lessons will be learned’-type apology, outreach to an animal charity and possibly full-page newspaper adverts saying ‘sorry’.

So, should Tesco stay in the doghouse or will you forgive their puppy-eyes apology?