'They’ve smashed it out the park with Britney' - PRWeek Christmas panel on Tesco, Sainsbury's and Lidl

PRWeek UK has assembled a team of creative comms experts to critique some of this year's major festive campaigns. Today: Tesco, Sainsbury's and Lidl.

Panelists (clockwise from top left): Lotte Jones, Julian Obubo, Mandy Sharp, Steve Strickland, Sophie Raine and Andrew Soar
Panelists (clockwise from top left): Lotte Jones, Julian Obubo, Mandy Sharp, Steve Strickland, Sophie Raine and Andrew Soar

Tesco

Tesco ditches Santa’s naughty list in a Christmas campaign encouraging people to enjoy themselves at the end of a tough year.

The ad, by Bartle Bogle Hegarty London, shows members of the British public confessing the “naughty” acts they have committed during 2020, such as bad video-call etiquette and buying too much loo roll.

However, the retailer reassures people that the “naughty list” does not apply this year and they should kick back and enjoy the season by indulging in Tesco’s festive treats.

Mandy Sharp, founder and chief executive, Tin Man Communications

Hurray, finally an ad that made me laugh. Well done Tesco for having the guts to be a bit naughty this year; to poke fun at ourselves and show the nation it’s ok to have a sense of humour even through the dark times. Swapping Christmas cheesiness for cheekiness is a smart move for a behemoth retailer like Tesco, the likes of which tend to lack brand personality and emotionally engaging comms. This mischievous-style marketing is usually the space owned by the ‘challenger’ supermarkets, so it’s a refreshing shift for Tesco. Whilst it’s definitely not the highest production quality, the actors are a bit stilted and I can barely understand the guy with the beard, the gags are pretty good. And there is one in there for everyone - whether it’s obsessive toilet roll buying or parental guilt over home schooling disasters, I think this ad will strike a chord in most of us. But most importantly it shows that humour can unite people even through the oddest Christmas ever!

Julian Obubo, brand strategy director and partner, Manifest

"I didn't donate to Captain Tom" - that line got a genuine chuckle out of me. Tesco has confronted this strange year head-on with an ad I think most people will enjoy. It's managed to squeeze in the required shots of Christmas dinner with golden potatoes and glistening cuts of meat while still giving us a pacy, original ad set to Britney Spears' 'Oops, I Did It Again'. While I generally agree that there shouldn't be a 'naughty list' this year, I'm finding it very difficult to remove 'toilet roll hoarders" from that list.

Steve Strickland, co-founder, Talker Tailor Trouble Maker

It’s Britney, Grinch. Tesco is my favourite ad of the year so far because its feels like it has an actual idea at the heart of it, beyond COVID and connections and “things will be different this year”. I can imagine the PR and social team having a field day thinking about all the ways the ‘naughty list is cancelled this year’ can be activated through the line, and that’s exciting to me. I also know I can really piss my brother off by telling my nephew that its cancelled and watching the hell be unleashed around their tiny flat. Shout out to Elliot, a really naughty-list kid. There is such genuine human insight in it that allows us as viewers to connect because guess what, I didn’t donate to Captain Tom either and every-time that line is said, I feel like they’re talking directly to me. It’s a very rare thing; an advert that feels real.

Sophie Raine, managing director, consumer brands, Ketchum

Oops they’ve done it again! I rather like Tesco’s offering - a cheeky take on the misdemeanours and shortcuts undertaken by the nation throughout 2020. It’s definitely smile-inducing, but no more than the sort of smile reserved for arriving at the supermarket and discovering there’s some loo roll left. I have seen folk on Twitter saying it “really made them laugh”; I’d argue they need to get out more (oh wait, we can’t go anywhere other than Tesco).

The supermarket giant said the ad was designed to be relatable and I’d argue they’ve triumphed here - this is probably the most relatable of all the festive retailer offerings. Tesco went onto say “they hoped it would get people talking”, which I think is a stretch - I’ve seen egg boxes more likely to spark a conversation.

Nonetheless, they’ve smashed it out the park with Britney; although the song is less Christmassy than a beach BBQ, it provides the perfect feel-good soundtrack to the production.

Lotte Jones, partner, Freuds

If nothing else, this wins the award for the most 2020 of the Christmas campaigns. While others have flashed an acknowledgement of the world’s collective annus horribilus, Tesco definitely picked up the baton and ran as fast as it could, powered by a large dose of irreverence and its tongue firmly in its cheek. It succeeds in striking a balance between gently poking fun at the shared experiences we can all relate to while also honouring the national mood of exasperation. And as someone who didn’t donate to Captain Tom, I’m also just grateful to have the guilt alleviated.

Andrew Soar, creative director, Ogilvy

Tesco has used a Muslim family again and has angered the crazy mob once more. Surely, it should have learnt from its 2017 advert? The fact that despite that right wing anger three years ago it has done it again with an Asim Chaudhry-voiced wonder and the sound of a pre-pandemic Britney, makes me smile.

Tesco has had a troubled few months, but I almost forgot that with this spot. Like, the adorable TK Maxx goat ad, it has hit the nail on the head with its “naughty” ad with fun, humour and general silliness that acts as an antidote to the seriousness of our lives right now.

Amongst all the LOLs, it is the silent star that steals the show, the kid sat in a high chair in an ‘I Love Captain Tom’ babygrow - honestly, a future Oscar winner right there.

Sainsbury's

Sainsbury’s is running a trio of nostalgic Christmas ads that celebrate food, family and memory.

The series, created by Wieden & Kennedy London, is a departure from the supermarket’s previous approach of creating one, big, blockbuster film for the festive season. Each spot focuses on a modern British family and their personal connection to a particular Christmas food.

The stories come to life through a combination of home-video-style footage and phone calls between family members. The first film, “Gravy song”, is a conversation between a father and his daughter as they look forward to the upcoming holiday.

Julian Obubo, brand strategy director and partner, Manifest

"Which ad are racists going to complain about this year?" is sadly becoming a recurring question every Christmas season. This year, it's the Sainsbury's "Gravy Song" ad, the first in the supermarket's series of three ads with a theme of family, food, and nostalgia. Whenever this sort of complaints occur, I'm reminded of the late Toni Morrison's words: "The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being."

I have not bothered to read a single complaint; it's a waste of my time and waste of yours. It's a distraction. Sainsbury's has put together a fine ad that will resonate with anyone who will be missing a loved one's special dish this Christmas. Keen-eyed viewers will hopefully have spotted what was clearly jollof rice on the plate in one of the last shots. I love that subtle nod to the evident diversity in this country. Bravo, Sainsbury's.

Sophie Raine, managing director, consumer brands, Ketchum

How refreshing to see a retailer manage to create a Christmas advert for less than £58. Even the opening credits appear to have been crafted by an A Level media studies student, who also kindly accepted the role of the daughter in the production.

I love the sentiment behind the ad - an ode to the power of food at Christmas - so that’s why I feel somewhat short-changed by the execution. I’ve seen relationships more believable in nursery nativity plays and cast members of TOWIE display greater conviction than the daughter.

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m suffering with a case of FAO (Festive Ad Overload) but I also find the “Food is home, ET phone home, Christmas is home” strapline really clunky. So A* for concept, C for execution from me.

Mandy Sharp, founder and chief executive, Tin Man Communications

This spot is a bit of an assault on the senses. There is a fine line between trying to create optimism and emotion but staying relevant and I don’t think the balance quite works here. I had to watch this a few times to understand what was going on and I just came away feeling sad and a bit confused. The footage is too fast paced and busy to allow you to absorb the voice-over properly and some of the narrative gets lost. I found myself wondering about the age of the daughter on the phone and how likely it was that she would be calling her father to discuss the merits of his gravy. As a daughter who speaks to her dad regularly, I can tell you, it’s not very likely. Yes, personal connections with roasties and perfect gravy can strike an emotional chord and turn a Christmas dinner from standard to supper (except when seeing gravy drunk with a spoon like soup, which made my stomach turn) but the script felt unnatural and it didn’t tick the festive boxes for me. It lacks magic, humour and misses the mark on the emotional pudding. Bring back the magic of 2019’s Nicholas the Sweep as I’m not sure this is quite the gravy train Sainsbury's was hoping for...

Steve Strickland, co-founder, Talker Tailor Trouble Maker

You know what’s not Christmassy? Shifting the focus from this beautiful advert that allows the viewer to really get to know its characters in such a short snippet of time to the racist views of Nigel from Eltham. Of course Carole, 56, who has a Union Jack on her Twitter and votes UKIP, doesn’t like it, but let’s all commit to stop giving oxygen to racists and focus on the efforts of Sainsbury’s to create something really touching.

The collective human insight of us all wondering whether we’ll be able to see our families at Christmas is wonderful. It’s not salesy, it’s not trying to be funny, it just has natural human humour you would associate with knowing a loving family. When I was younger, my mum would always burn the roast potatoes to such a point that they were hollow. It may have something to do with the fact that we lived above a pub that my dad managed but we have that story, this family has gravy. Whether fabricated or real, the journey through time and open ended nature of will they, won’t they against a backdrop of our news agenda invested me. It would be a hard one to PR and sadly, it seems the racism has become a secondary layer to this creative but as far as honest, joyous, Christmassy advertising, Sainsbury’s is up there.

Andrew Soar, creative director, Ogilvy

Another ad that has brought out the sad, sad racists out of their Twitter caves. Whilst Sainsbury’s all black cast (hallelujah!) ‘Gravy Song’ is deemed too woke or unrelatable for some; it is a beautifully stylish nostalgia-laden shot ad.

I’m drawn more to the stunning cinematography, the clever colour grading and phone call audio. Creatively, it’s a bit of me! The second ad, out today, has also hit the spot with the turkey carving tradition tugging on the heartstrings.

Well done Sainsbury’s for making ads with real peoples stories - first, a loving father who embarrasses his daughter and claims kitchen genius because of one thing he makes well and the second, the relationship between an eager mum and her child, it’s got typical Scouse banter with mum wheeling out her new electric carver!

Lotte Jones, partner, Freuds

I’m traditionally not a fan of sentimentality in ads designed to shift frozen turkeys; and given the side helping of pandemic this year, you’d think Sainsbury’s could have really taken a wrong turn with this seasonal offering. But there is something gentle about this campaign, and something really quite rough round the edges that takes it from straight-up cheesiness to a genuinely emotive vignette of how Christmas will be being talked about in sitting rooms across the country at this very moment. A definite “there’s something my eye” from me!

Lidl

Lidl has taken aim at the overused tropes of retailers’ festive ads in its own effort from Karmarama, “A Christmas you can believe in”.

The 60-second animation opens over a snow-draped town before zooming in on a house, where a girl is leaving a mince pie on the windowsill for her robin redbreast pal – while a female vocalist sings a cutesy song about friendship. That’s until 12 seconds in, when a price appears on the screen, and the singer states: “Nope – it’s a Christmas ad from Lidl with great prices instead…”

Lotte Jones, partner, Freuds

For a brand that does so well with its below-the-line campaigns and has grown a fanbase by knowing itself so well, I’m surprised at this half-hearted attempt at humour. I can only imagine this was conceived of in January and there was someone determined to see the work through, because it could have been picked from any year in history. It just doesn’t feel relevant, and it’s not artful enough to particularly save itself. Wry digs at Aldi’s carrot aren’t convincing and it doesn’t really do the job it obviously intended to. Major points for Cremant at £8.49 and the animation but beyond that you’ll find me re-watching the Sainsbury’s ad.

Andrew Soar, creative director, Ogilvy

Lidl is like the granddad trying a bit too hard to be funny on Christmas Day, isn’t it? The aim of poking fun at traditional ads is a bit off mark for me and doesn’t make me even close to laughing once. Soz.

Yes, it will grab headlines for its beef with Aldi’s Kevin The Carrot, but it will not last long in the memory. The ad sees a carrot stabbed with a fork as a tear emerges from the carrot’s eye, along with the line: “We don’t need cutesy characters when our carrots taste this good.” Salty!

Steve Strickland, co-founder, Talker Tailor Trouble Maker

Quite sweet, quite funny, quite forgettable. One thing that drives me chestnuts is when advertisers or PRs try and make funny out of our own behaviours; like a massive circle jerk.  “We’re going to take the piss out of what adverts normally look like at Christmas” is just a massive assumption that people care that deeply about the structure of an ad. Felt like an ad for ad people, so outside of the great deals, of which there are many, the creative was a bit lost on me.

Mandy Sharp, founder and chief executive, Tin Man Communications

I’m pleased I watched this ad last. Because it seems that just as I was getting increasingly bored by ‘emotional gravy’ and phallic looking carrots so was the creative team at Lidl. Whilst price messages tend not to evoke emotional connections in audiences, Christmas is probably the one time you can get away with it, and if you do it wrapped in humour, it can be a winner. I like the parody approach and I award Lidl’s bravery with going for one clear message and singing it loud and clear. My only negative is I think it could have gone bolder and cheekier with it. Personally, I would have speared the carrot with a fork and then boiled it in salty water - but maybe I’ve just lost my Christmas spirit after watching all these ads!

Sophie Raine, managing director, consumer brands, Ketchum

Viewer warning! The Christmas ad from Lidl shows explicit violence targeted towards a certain root vegetable called Kevin. And that’s why I bloody love it. Well done Lidl for injecting some swagger into the often predictable and saccharine Christmas ad world.

Featuring as many parodies as an Austin Powers movie, it’s basically the festive ad equivalent of sticking your tongue out, placing your thumb on your nose, waggling your fingers and saying “nah nah nah nah nah” to someone you don’t like.

Not only enjoyable to watch, Lidl manages to explicitly call out the benefit offered by shopping with them this Christmas in a way that so many other ads fail to do. Throughout we see a host of food and drink alongside product prices - showing consumers can be assured of 'delicious and quality food at amazing value' - a message Lidl carps on about year round.

Julian Obubo, brand strategy director and partner, Manifest

Okay, Lidl might have created my favourite Christmas ad this year. This is a much-welcomed lampoon of all the Christmas ad cliches that supermarket brands shamelessly or subtlely embrace (looking at you Waitrose and Tesco) with a not-so-subliminal jab at arch-rival Aldi's "Kevin the Carrot", Ouch!

Christmas ads do tend to have an air of seriousness and self-conceit about them, so it's very refreshing to know this hilarious send up will be airing on millions of TVs over the coming weeks. I can still hear the sound of the fork piercing into the carrot. Well done, Lidl, well done.

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