Sainsbury's re-tells story of Father Christmas in Dickensian-style campaign

The new Sainsbury's Christmas campaign leans heavily on Oliver and other classic tales, weaving its heritage into a new take on the story of Saint Nicholas.

Chris Dunkley stars and as Nick the sweep in Sainsbury's Christmas ad.
Chris Dunkley stars and as Nick the sweep in Sainsbury's Christmas ad.

Saint Nicholas has been given a charming Sainsbury’s makeover in a Christmas spot that gently tugs on the heartstrings and nods to the retailer’s 150-year heritage.

Based in Dickensian London (which is actually a Romanian studio), a young chimney sweep called Nicholas is wrongly accused of stealing a clementine that had fallen off a Sainsbury’s display on the street.

His devious workmaster convinces the surrounding crowd that Nick had stolen the piece of fruit and the boy is arrested and banished from the city.

Mary Ann Sainsbury sees that Nick has been framed, and eventually rescues the orphan from the cold, presenting him with a full bag of clementines.

When Nick says he can’t pay for the gift, Mary Ann responds: "If you can’t do something special for someone at Christmas, then when can you?"

Nick then secretly drops clementines into the socks of his chimney sweep buddies, before – dressed in a red coat and Santa Claus hat – he strides off into a snowy sunset towards the reindeer.

The hero spot stars Chris Dunkley as Nick the sweep. It has several ‘Easter eggs’, including a posters that reference last year’s Christmas sensation, Plug Boy.

Head of broadcast marketing at Sainsbury's, Laura Boothby, told PRWeek the retailer saw five different creative ideas, but the story of St Nick was the only one that tapped into its 150-year heritage.

"We didn’t want to claim we invented father Christmas, which was why the tone was light-hearted with a nod and wink," Boothby said.

"The other thing that was an amazing coincidence was that 150 years ago was Dickensian London and when you think about Christmas carol and Quality Street tins, they’re so much about that era that it was a no-brainer.

"How do you tell a really emotional, heart-warming tale that’s ultimately about your brand. That’s quite hard to do when you are ultimately trying to sell stuff. This role for Sainsbury’s felt really authentic and genuine."

The TV commercial, by Wieden+Kennedy, forms part of the brand’s 150th birthday celebrations, with ‘Helping make Christmas, Christmas since 1869’ sitting at the heart of the Sainsbury’s marketing campaign. Additional food and drink TV, radio, print, digital, social and OOH advertising is planned around the same message.

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