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by Paul Temple

“Fancy coming along to a session with our creative team?” said my friend who works in advertising.

“Sure”, I replied. “Sounds fun. Who’s the client?”

“Waitrose. I think you’ll find it interesting.” A few days later I’m in his agency’s posh offices on Charlotte Street, meeting their “creatives”.

“Glad you could come, Paul”, says the Creative Director, “We’d like your input on this.”

“Of course”, I reply, thinking, “What do I know about ads for supermarkets?” We all then sit down to watch the video they’ve been working on. It opens with a group of supposed Waitrose staff, standing around in a store, wearing concerned expressions.

“I’m bothered about the Robinson family”, says one of them. “They seem like the sort of nice people who should be Waitrose shoppers, but they go to Tesco.”

“Nothing wrong with shopping at Tesco, mind”, says another member of the group.

“’Course not”, replies the first one, quickly. “Well, not as such. It’s just that, y’know….well, it’s not Waitrose, is it?”

“They don’t sell Duchy Original ginger biscuits, with real bits of ginger in them”, puts in a third group member.

“My point exactly!” says the first one. “So what are we going to do?” There’s a brief pause.

“How about…putting on, like, an open day? Hand out sushi and glasses of prosecco? The Robinsons could then see that our customers are normal people, just like them.”

“Brilliant idea!” says the first speaker. “But we’d have to be sure that an open day really did make the Robinsons feel at home here”.

“Yes”, says the second speaker, thoughtfully. “We’d maybe have to ask our usual customers to leave their Porsches and Range Rovers at home – get them to drive the au pair’s car instead”.

“And not to go on about their second homes in the Dordogne and their skiing holidays in…”

The video stops abruptly, and the Creative Director turns to me: “That last bit obviously needs more work, but you see our angle?”

“Uummm, I think so…”

“Well”, he says, with a touch of impatience, “You know about universities: you surely see that we nicked the idea from Oxford and Cambridge? Those guys are so f***ing smart! No wonder that they’re still doing good business after however many hundred years it is!”

The penny now begins to drop. “So your angle is not to say that Waitrose is better than Tesco – which you’d have to try to prove – just that it’s a pity that Tesco customers somehow don’t see themselves as Waitrose shoppers, and how can we help?”

“Got it in one!” says the Creative Director, in the tone of a parent whose small child has completed a tricky piece of colouring-in. “One of the team was reading a piece in The Guardian – when was it, Mike? – yeah, December 18th last year – about this set-up called The Sutton Trust. Absolute genius for Oxford and Cambridge to create a front organisation to go around hand-wringing about what a shame that bright kids from ordinary backgrounds don’t go there. They even dreamed up a bland name to hide the connection: and as for the word “Trust” – just brilliant!”

“Well, I’m not sure that…”

“Oh, come on!” snaps the Creative Director. “Please! You’re not telling me that this Trust thing is some kind of ‘what’s best for you?’ consumer organisation. Get a grip! Its whole purpose is to allow Oxford and Cambridge not to have to actually say that other universities are rubbish, just what a terrible waste that some clever kids, weirdly, seem to prefer them.”

“Well, I’m not sure that…”

“Take that Guardian article: it featured a young guy doing medicine at UCL – that’s a pretty good place, right? – who maybe could have gone to Oxbridge. So, without anyone having to put it into words, the implication is that he’s a loser – that going to Oxbridge is so obviously the better option that you don’t even need to say it. Abso-f***ing-lutely genius! Now, if we can pull off the same trick for Waitrose, we’ll be advertising legends! Lunch?”

SRHE member Paul Temple, Centre for Higher Education Studies, UCL Institute of Education, University College London. Read more from Paul Temple at


Author: SRHE News Blog

An international learned society, concerned with supporting research and researchers into Higher Education

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