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Do supermarket Christmas campaigns really make us switch?

20 December 2013 Jim Harrison,

Roger Pride writes...

Britain’s retailers are battling it out for their share of Christmas heart and pocket. Actually they have been going toe to toe since early November. In recent years the release of the festive advertising contributions from the likes of John Lewis, Mark and Spencer, Tesco and Sainsbury’s signal the unofficial launch of the run-in to Christmas.

With huge production budgets which are rarely seen these days and vast media spends, the stakes are high. Sales over the Christmas period will go a long way to deciding whether our retail brands will be counting profits or losses at the end of the financial year. According to Market Analyst Neilson retailers will spend an estimated £390m on advertising in the final 3 months of 2013. We won’t know the real winners and losers until January but the reaction in social media might give us an early clue.

In the early rounds there seemed to be some indication that M&S were out in front with 58.8 million mentions on twitter compared to 49.2 million for Tesco and 45.9 million for John Lewis. M&S and John Lewis are the only two of the major retailers to have created a designated hashtag for the ad - #magicandsparkle and #bearandhare respectively. Here John Lewis were leading the way with their hashtag mentioned 28,000 times compared to just 3,500 for M&S.

From a personal perspective I prefer Bear and Hare to Magic and Sparkle. I think that the power of the idea 'imagine as an adult you saw Christmas day for the first time' is huge. And it is executed brilliantly. The Disney inspired animation is perfectly crafted and with a soundtrack of Lily Allen’s version of the Keane track “Somewhere only we know”, the film is high on emotion. The fact that the track is now number 1 in the charts is also a major bonus for John Lewis. These days the paid for TV exposure is designed to stimulate more personal and interactive consumer engagement through social and digital media. Here again with ideas such an e-christmas card maker and a competition to sing the signature track, John Lewis seem to be hitting the right note. It seems that a simple alarm clock can unlock everything that is good in us.

In contrast M&S is much more overtly commercial. To me it’s more about money and spending than magic and sparkle. I suppose this isn’t surprising given the recent news about M&S’s poor performance in their non-food lines. Although it offers high production values and Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley in silky underwear is certainly easy on the eye I can’t help but think that M&S is trying too hard. I also wonder whether it will strike a chord in these still tough economic times.

In complete contrast Sainsbury’s contribution goes against all the other expensive high production offerings. They chose Last King of Scotland director Kevin McDonald to make a 50 minute long film celebrating the joyful honesty of the festive season. I have always believed in the power of real people telling their own personal stories and this film conveys it brilliantly. The film is a celebration of the British Christmas and shot in a home video style. The cut down TV ad featuring the returning soldier surprising his children is a real tear jerker. Sainsbury’s more than any brand seem to have captured the mood of the nation and the fact that the filming was commissioned before last Christmas is brave and commendable. It deserves to be successful.

Tesco too have opted to focus on the traditional family Christmas. Their ads show family home movies over six decades with the backing track of Rod Stewarts 1980’S hit Forever Young. Tesco claim the ads are intended to show “a real Christmas, not a perfect airbrushed one” but in my opinion they fail to match the reality and honesty of the Sainsbury’s approach.

Whilst the vast majority of the social media comment on all the ads mentioned have been positive Waitrose might have made a Christmas turkey. Whilst their concept of telling the story of the perfect Christmas Dinner is fine, the execution [no pun intended] which features a turkey farm was met with comments by viewers such as “morbid”, “depressing” and “horrific” on social media.

The big question however is “do they work?” Do these campaigns actually influence the way we shop and influence us to switch brands? Well according to research undertaken by on-line website Netmums, they do. Just prior to the release of the Sainsbury’s ad, they surveyed 5,749 mothers and found that the John Lewis as was the clear favourite with 31.5% of the vote. Second was M&S with 16.7% followed by Morrisons and Tescos respectively. Perhaps more significantly it was also found that 17% of mums claimed the commercials influence where they shop, and one in nine changed stores after seeing a festive ad.


 Header image courtesy of Flickr user ‘bevgoodwin’

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