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Just over a year ago, B&Q appeared on our screens as we’d never seen it before, its emotionally charged, beautifully crafted and visually stunning ads a far cry from its work of old. But is it shifting perceptions and, more importantly, stock? The Drum takes a look.

The change in tack of B&Q’s marketing approach followed the arrival of Paddy Earnshaw as customer director in April 2019. By December that year he had hired Uncommon – an agency that had earned itself an enviable reputation in just a few short years – to take over the advertising account from five-year incumbent Engine.

The brief – “make B&Q relevant again” – was simple on paper, Earnshaw recalls. “Take this brand that inspires such change for people but hasn’t represented it in an emotionally engaging way. What does that look like?”

Uncommon landed on the ‘Build a Life’ concept. The first ad launched in September 2020 at the height of the first Covid-19 lockdown in the UK, five months after people were first asked to stay at home. Voiced by Game of Thrones actor Rory McCann, it was made up of real home videos from families across the UK reflecting on life’s moments and how home improvement can shape them.

The second film in the series, launched in the Spring of 2021, was also voiced by McCann. Called ’We Will Grow Again’, it was a  celebration of hope and renewal after a winter spent in another lockdown 

The latest instalment was revealed in late September. It took on a new approach, moving away from the home-footage style of the previous ads to use stop-motion animation to tell the story of a man called Nigel who changes his outlook on life as well as his home with the encouragement of his family. 

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Earnshaw compares B&Q’s invigorated creative approach for inspiring DIY to what Nike has done in using creative to encourage exercise.

“We wanted an emotional story about change and why you do it,” he says. “I’m a real believer that a cookie-cutter approach will deliver the same results. I have no desire to create the same ad week in week out. What we’re trying to do is find a way to engage and find a hook with how people feel.”

The impact

But is it working? That’s been a difficult question for Earnshaw to answer. The pandemic drove a boom in the DIY sector and B&Q saw sales soar 81.9% in the first quarter of 2021, according to its most recent results. It’s impossible for Earnshaw to know for sure how much of that B&Q’s new creative approach is responsible for.

“The honest answer is we can’t separate the two things. We have measured if there was a believe and understanding that B&Q could stand for change and helping people improve their homes to make life better. And against those metrics we saw double digit growth – 10% improvement in customer belief in brand purpose and a 7% improvement that B&Q could improve your life.”

For specific categories it saw an uplift in consideration. Kitchen ads drove 13% consideration last year while April’s ‘Grow Again’ campaign for outdoor products saw consideration go up 8% and preference 12%.

“And this is in mature markets,” Earnshaw stresses.

Analysis from social listing firm TalkWalker suggests online conversations about the brand are similarly positive as a result of the advertising push.

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Between the first ad launching in September 2020 and today (October 2021), people on social media have been largely positive sentiment (41.6%) compared to just 3.2% negative sentiment. 

Its data shows that each advert released by B&Q creates a spike in online conversations led by publications and consumers alike. Keywords used by people on social to describe the ad include ‘creative’, ‘hope’, ‘growing’ and ‘unique’.

And, unusually, creative studio Uncommon has also received praise on social for the work.

However, data from YouGov supplied to The Drum paints a slightly different picture. It sources its data from UK wide panel of 1 million consumers.

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It found the first ad that launched had a positive short-term effect on awareness of the brand – rising from a score of 13.8 to 18.1 – but since then the response from consumers has been “negligible or erratic” with high points in impression scores (whether someone has heard something positive or negative about B&Q) not directly linked to any advertising activity.

YouGov said the retailer had a peak in consideration among consumers in May 2021 while purchase intent peaked in August 2021.

Earnshaw says it’s not just consumer sentiment it has been measuring. He said since the work launched, engagement across the business has also increased during what was a really demanding time for retail staff.

“’Build a Life’ has allowed us to believe in our standards around photography, imagery, visual merchandising and the product we sell. We’ve got a responsibility and platform from which to improve these standards. Our stores look better than ever.

“And we’ve seen a benefit to our employer brand association. We’ve never seen more interest in roles.”

What’s next?

B&Q isn’t the only home improvement retailer to have benefitted from Covid-19. While it is seeing better than ever sales it is also experiencing more competition than ever, which means its investment in creative and the ‘Build a Life’ platform is far from over.

“We will keep investing,” says Earnshaw on plans moving forward. “The last thing we want to do is pull the handbrake. We’ll keep investing in our brand as well as investing in our categories and trading campaigns.

“It’s also given us a platform to make sure we can keep those customers who have turned to DIY for the first time – we’re trying to retain the customers we’ve brought in for the first time. We’ve got more younger customers than ever and therein also goes back to the question of continuing to change the ads – there’s so many audiences we’re trying to look after that it would be too simple and too boring to keep doing the same thing.”