Australia’s supermarkets know their characters and stick to them. Alex Moore explains.

One is green and fresh. One is red and down. The other is blue and different (in a good way).

These are the codes through which we view our supermarkets. Like shortcuts to meaning in the brain, they help us make quick decisions about where we head for the weekly shop.

But beneath these codes, there’s something else at play — something that makes you an unwavering Coles champion, or an ALDI aficionado. And it goes way beyond colours, price, and taglines.

We’re talking about brand character.

More than personality, a brand’s character goes much deeper and represents its authentic identity. Things like behaviour and values, what it looks like and why, the different hats it wears in different moments, and the way it sounds when it talks.

A clearly defined brand character also helps marketers, brand teams and comms professionals by drawing a line between what is in character, and what isn’t. That’s simple, practical advice that helps deliver real consistency for any brand’s expression.

The big three supermarkets rely on their unique brand character to build the entire customer journey from store layout to Insta stories and everything in between.

It helps to create differentiation in what is, essentially, the same product and gives each brand something real and true to work from.

In a retail environment where seasonality reigns supreme, having a brand character as a central source of truth is invaluable when crafting comms and the customer experience.

ALDI’s brand character is the easiest to spot. Quirky copy, fun Christmas campaigns, and special buys that see shoppers queuing up every Wednesday and Saturday for an inflatable pool ring that looks like a donut, or a waffle-maker with an FM radio.

Together, it spells a supermarket that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Couple that with good quality and lower prices, and you’ve got a brand character that feels fun, playful, and totally in touch.

When positioned against the other two, ALDI is a breath of fresh air. An ambitious target for comms, sure — but one they hit time and time again. Great example: the ‘Special You Can Buy’ campaign from earlier this year.

And Christmas just doesn’t feel like Christmas without ALDI’s tongue-in-cheek take.

Of course, brand character is more than just (great) advertising. It’s the entire experience.

ALDI manages to masterfully create a world in its communication that somehow feels linked to the reality in-store. When both are singing the same tune, you know you’ve got a strong brand.

Now, that’s not to say Coles or Woolworths are stale. Far from it. It’s just their characters are a little different.

To live up to The Fresh Food People, Woolworths adopts a vibrant, excited persona. With a focus, obviously, on people. It makes it feel youthful, bright and vigorous. All the green helps to boost these connotations, but it’s in the copy where the character really shines.

Punchy and positive, there’s wordplay and rhythm that tells you things are alive and happening. It’s never aiming to break ground or make some profound statement, but it doesn’t need to. By staying true to its youthful character, it’s doing the job.

All told, Woolworths feels like the younger sibling to Coles. Maybe that’s why the brand’s Christmas spot this year is full of kids dressing up and putting on a community play.

When you start to notice a brand’s character, it’s hard not to see its impact across everything.

So, Coles. Still, most definitely, the ‘older sibling’ to the rest. But there’s been a subtle shift in recent times — a change in character that moves them away from shouty and shiny to a more real, down-to-earth, cinematic aesthetic.

You hear it in the tone. It’s mature, committed to the customer, and not afraid of some good-natured fun. You see it in the content and photography, with more muted colours, more insightful slices of Australian life, and a fresh look at suppliers. Meaning we’re more connected to where our food comes from.

Ultimately, this character translates to in-store, too. It serves to soften the impact of red, a colour traditionally associated with strong emotions, making it more inviting and relatable. And it allows for the brand’s Zero Together mission – Coles’ ambition to reduce its impact on the environment by working towards zero emissions, zero waste and zero hunger – to proudly adorn the walls and staff shirts.

Every brand has a unique character. Even the boring ones. And once they’ve found it, it forms an integral part of their overall brand strategy.

ALDI, Woolworths and Coles know theirs intimately — and as customers, so do we. It’s why they stand out in their own distinct ways, and it influences their expression, brand codes, and end-to-end experience they offer.

Without brand character, these businesses are, for all intents and purposes, the same.

And that just makes choosing one for the weekly shop way harder than it needs to be.


This article first appeared in InsideRetail

Alex Moore is an Associate Director at brand-language studio XXVI.

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