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Coles’ Big Red Hand Makes Triumphant Return

September 2023

This is a self-funded case study using our ad testing solution.

Love it or hate it, the fact is that almost every Australian is intimately familiar with Coles’ big red downward-pointing hand. In fact, it’s right up there with some of Australia’s most recognizable branding beacons, including Mortein’s Louie The Fly and VB’s iconic jingle.

For Coles, the reprisal of the “Down Down” campaign — and wider reintroduction of the foamy finger — is a huge reversal in strategy for the brand, with ECD Psembi Kinstan acknowledging the powerful but latent asset. While the hand (which was first introduced when the ‘pricing wars’ with Woolworths kicked off in 2012) might not elicit the same level of warmth and positivity as that of other cult favorites, its return to Australian television screens is nonetheless significant.

After just a few frames of “Great Value, Hands Down” viewers weren’t in any doubt as to who the ad was for — a testament to the power of investing in distinctive branding properties. With the hand further contextualized through in-store visuals and an abundance of red-shirted staff, all these elements combined together to reinforce the unmistakable connection to Coles. Likewise, the upbeat communicative style and focus on value-for-money were elements perceived as highly congruent with expectations of the supermarket.

So, with brand presence ticked off, the next hurdle was to ensure the ad stood out like a big, red, sore… thumb. To do this, Coles took its traditionally exuberant staff members and increased their energy to kids-on-cordial levels. Says creative partner, James Cowie:

“Big red hand campaigns have always featured Coles team members looking excited in a pretty over-the-top way. We wanted to really own that excitement and take it to yet another level in a way that’s fun and self-aware.”

Basically, if you ever wanted to see your local Coles shelf-stacker ‘chuck a wheelie’ on a dirt bike after 10 red bulls, then you came to the right place. Set to the energetic theme of a 90’s techno classic, the soundtrack was more reminiscent of a pop concert than an ad for a national grocery chain. Moreover, the visuals were jam-packed with wild stunts and choreographed dancing (again, with a big red hand never far away).

The final question, then, is whether all these bells and whistles would detract from the underlying message. During a time where shoppers are increasingly tightening their belts, it was imperative that the ad landed that Coles offers ‘great value’. In this respect the ad was a resounding success, with nearly three-quarters of people believing Coles would help save them money.

Overall, it just wouldn’t be a “Down Down” ad if it didn’t evoke a higher-than-average level of annoyance. Right from the campaign’s inception over a decade ago (featuring British rockers, Status Quo), the strategy behind the campaign has been crystal clear — leave viewers with no other option but to pay attention in the pursuit of encoding Coles’ low-cost positioning. But the challenge, as Coles came to learn, is that the role of advertising (and brand-building more generally) is to make the brand feel like a good choice. This is what leads us to unconsciously choose one brand over another and makes buying decisions fast and easy.

It was pleasing, then, that only one-in-five people found the ad annoying, which in the context of some previous installments is a big win. By striking a much better balance between fun, entertainment, and repetition, the overall emotional response skewed in the brand’s favor. This subtle creative pivot means the big red hand now serves a purposeful role for the brand, acting as a shortcut to both emotional appeal (fun) and functional benefits (value). With escalating pressure being felt by households across the nation, the time was right for Coles to dust the cobwebs off “Down Down” — which means we’re proud to give the big red hand a big yellow thumbs up 👍.

Coles - Great Value. Hands Down Down - Ad Testing Metrics

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