LearnHow to encourage loyalty in tough times


Ryan Carson
writes on December 2, 2008

Pret, a sandwich shop here in the UK, regularly amazes me with their copywriting.

In a (misguided) bid to stimulate the economy the British government has just decreased the sales tax rate here and all the shops and businesses are having to update their prices.

Here’s what it said:


(Thank you Darling!)

We’re passing on the new lower VAT rate immediately.

Pret’s ‘Just Roasted’ coffee, ‘Just Made’ Soups & Hot Wraps, dine in prices … in fact all VAT inclusive prices have already been reduced.

Good news for you, a bit of a nightmare for us. We’ve got thousands of price tickets, hundreds of menu boards and now they’re all wrong!

You’ll pay less straight away.

We’ll get the labels right as quickly as we can.


The funny thing is they’re simply obeying the law, not doing something special or out of the ordinary. They are required by law to charge the new sales tax rate. So why does this flyer make you smile? Three reasons:

1. They’re using familiar and friendly language.

2. They’re letting you know that the tax rate change is a pain in the ass for them but it’s more important to take care of you, even if it’s harder.

3. They’re not afraid to be human and say ‘Hey, we’re bummed we have to do this. We’re like you and we hate boring admin crap.” It helps you to identify with them.

You basically think “Aw, thanks guys – much appreciated.”

In tough economic times, just remember that you need to give your customers even more reasons to spend their cash with you. Taking care of them and being a friend just might put you in front of the competition.

In addition to the financial benefits, it’s just a better way to live, right?


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0 Responses to “How to encourage loyalty in tough times”

  1. David Silverman on September 16, 2009 at 12:36 am said:

    They’re not ethical, they’re pretend ethical, and this style of twee copy is incredibly annoying.

    Charlie Brooker is insightful about this kind of thing: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/nov/06/currentaccounts.comment

  2. @Bobbie – thanks for putting me right, I might start going there again now 🙂

  3. Simple idea, great execution.

    Could be better. If they’d cut off the price as well, by the same amount the tax is cut. They’d be saying Hey! we care the same gov’t does.

  4. This doesn’t just have a positive impact on their customers – I bet the overworked staff are pretty happy that the tedious label changes they’ll have to sort out are publicly recognised by their Communications team, and therefore by the customers too. A strange way of boosting morale, but I like it! It annoys me so much when service sector companies spew out one-sided positive copy – the disconnect between their “woo! isn’t everything simply marvellous!” message and the harassed faces of their shop-floor workers creates a worse image than if they hadn’t bothered in the first place.

    Yeah, so. Honesty. People like it. Radical stuff.

  5. Rory – I think I’m right in saying that McDonald’s sold its stake in Pret earlier this year.

    (goes and checks)

    Yep, it sold its 33% stake in April to private equity.

  6. I really like pret they always have had a great marketing team that can easily relate to its consumer.

  7. @Grant sales tax doesn’t normally change, so having it on the ticket means that you know what price you’ll need to pay when you get to the register. I’m always forgetting when I go to the US that sales tax isn’t on the ticket which means that when I get to the register the item appears more expensive – suddenly that 5 dollar bill that I had out of my wallet ready to pay isn’t enough. I can see that if sales tax changed all the time it would be a waste, but to be honest as a consumer I much prefer having it on the price labels
    @Alex I agree – I’ve seen lots of examples recently of normally staid brands trying to be more “cuddly”; it seems to be a bit of a fad at the moment. I think there are certain brands for which it’s appropriate, and others where it’s obviously not. that said, honest, open communication with your customers is always better.

  8. Tesco stores have done something similar.

  9. @Alex

    “I’d be interested to know, if you think there’s much longevity to this style of branding? Do you expect to see this working 10 years from now?”

    You bet. But only if the company *genuinely* cares about it’s customers. If it’s just PR bull shit, then it won’t fool anyone. I believe there’s a real change rippling across the world through companies that ‘get it’. It’s time to treat customers with friendliness and respect. Once anyone gets a taste of this, they’ll hate working with companies that don’t behave like this.

  10. Ryan, I agree with you that it is highly effective copy but I feel your second and third points are really just offshoots, entirely dependent on the first; that is, the familiar and friendly language it uses. I think the same messages you describe in those latter points could equally be transmitted in a more standard, authoritarian manner, which wouldn’t identify them with the reader at all.

    I personally feel what makes this copywriting style engaging (at present), is the juxtaposition of its tone associated with our preconception of its medium- in fast food restaurants we rarely expect much more than the obligatory message of “Caution: Hot”, which is obviously devoid of the sort of personality we are increasingly seeing on Pret/Innocent/Howies/Moo/etc. products.

    However (and I may be completely wrong on this), I imagine it’s only a matter of time before the other, slower PR machines of rival brands churn out similarly cuddly messages, to the point we are regularly exposed to, and quickly saturated by, inane, trivial mush- which we’ll no doubt filter out the same way we have been filtering out noisy cereal packaging for decades.

    I’m sure I have already seen one or two fruit drinks makers trying and, I personally thought, failing to communicate similar identities as Innocent. And, in doing so, they somehow (sadly) managed to muddy the preformed relationship I had with Innocent in my mind, after presenting me with the realisation that it’s all just clever PR.
    Indeed, the whole experience made me so cynical as to question whether Innocent have EVER had a Banana Phone in that Fruit Towers of theirs! (I still like to think they do, although you’d think there’d be a readily available picture of it somewhere on the net??)

    At the end of the day, I’m not disagreeing with your observations of great, timely copy nor why it appeals to us but, I’d be interested to know, if you think there’s much longevity to this style of branding? Do you expect to see this working 10 years from now?

  11. I’m curious, and please excuse my American ignorance – is it required that they print menus and price tickets with the VAT incorporated? It seems like a waste. Why not just add it at the register?

  12. I’d be impressed were it not for the fact that they are owned by Macdonald’s. Evil Empires be warned…

  13. @Paul May

    “it’s just good copy?”

    That’s exactly the point. Good copy always serves a purpose and in this case, it’s engendering loyalty and good will.

  14. In tough economic times we appreciate people and companies that give a damn more than ever. And the most effective way to give a damn is to speak and act like a human being.

    Companies, apps, ads… they all benefit.

  15. Whilst they legally have to drop the VAT rate, they don’t legally have to change prices. They could just pocket the difference, effective increasing prices.

    I don’t actually have an issue with this. The purpose of the vat rate is to stimulate the economy AND help businesses. A business on the edge of going under, might be able to stay afloat with an extra 2.5% and save them selves shedding jobs.

    Of course saying “We’ve decided not to pocket the difference and pass the savings onto you instead” doesn’t quite sell as well.

  16. Another example of a great company, both in terms of ethics and the way they treat their customers is Howies (http://www.howies.co.uk).

    They often post on their blog that new stock has arrived, that deliveries have been delayed due to… and their posts are often full of optimism which almost always puts a smile on my face.

    Companies can be professional whilst having fun, more of them need to realise this.

  17. Isn’t this just effective copywriting? Writing in a way that entices customers/reinforces the ways your customers feel about you? If this type of a familiar style of didn’t resonate with me, would it encourage loyalty? I think it’s great copy, and it’s written in a very personable style, but…it’s just good copy?

  18. I really love clever and friendly language by companies, it gives them a friendly feeling. Innocent smoothies is another great example of a company that does this on all their packaging.

  19. Definitely adds a personal touch to the business, which, quite frankly, can be very advantageous if used correctly.

    It’s in these tough economic times that people seem to realize how far a personal connection to a business can go. It helps businesses stand out more, and adds value to the brand.

    Not to mention it’s free!

  20. I noticed that too! I also thought exactly what you thought, when I read it…i.e..that they’d notified customers with language that is normal and not out of a text book.

    Love straight-talking and light-hearted messages like that. Tom Peters is always talking about this and how it’s important to engage the customer and make them feel special, by dealing with them in a way they understand.

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