'Left me with a headache' or a 'visual and audio treat'? PRWeek Xmas panel on Tesco and Sainsbury's

Festive campaigns from the UK's two biggest supermarket groups are next under the microscope.

Clockwise from top left: Kim Allain, Nick Woods, Rachel O'Malley, Greg Double, Janelle Feliciano, Jo Chappel, Charlie Coney and Sasha Marks (centre)
Clockwise from top left: Kim Allain, Nick Woods, Rachel O'Malley, Greg Double, Janelle Feliciano, Jo Chappel, Charlie Coney and Sasha Marks (centre)

Tesco, 'This Christmas, nothing’s stopping us'

Tesco offers a seasonal concoction of relatability exaggerated for effect and then sprinkled with some punchy humour in its 2021 Christmas ad – all while showing off its range of festive food.

The ad, by BBH London, aims to celebrate what it believes is the nation’s spirit of joyful defiance and determination. The star of this year’s campaign is a hardcore granny who is determined to make it back home from the shops.

Some anti-vaxxers threatened to boycott the retailer following the release of the campaign due to its inclusion of a vaccine pass.

Greg Double, creative director, Engine Mischief

It may be running with the ‘go really big this year’ message we’ve seen before but, as last year, Tesco lands so many on-point cultural references that the ad feels fresh and funny, rather than too familiar.

More importantly, I love an advert that upsets the right people, so when #BoycottTesco was trending over the weekend – because anti-vaxxers took exception to Santa’s COVID-19 passport – I immediately enjoyed this ad 10 times more.

Not only has this ad provided a sense of festive enthusiasm, it has also installed extra confidence that you can shop in Tesco, safe in the knowledge that the tinfoil hat brigade is marching down someone else’s aisles.

Kim Allain, creative lead, MSL UK

Don’t stop me nooooow, I’m having such a good time. This, like the Argos ad, followed the path of going all out this Christmas. Not shying away from the fact that Christmas (as we’ve said a thousand times) was pants last year and that we are all going out with a bang.

Some parts were clunky – ie Scrooge and the carollers, which I felt was super-unnecessary. However, unlike Argos, Tesco has played it very smart, by pre-empting all the things that could/can still go wrong, and putting up two fingers to it. No Santa because of COVID-19? Absolutely not. Food shortages? Who cares. Clever.

Charlie Coney, creative strategy officer, UK and EMEA, Ogilvy PR

This one feels like the set-up section from the client presentation was accidentally passed to the creative team as the brief.

You can see every slide from the cultural context part of the deck turned into little vignettes and wrapped up in a Queen-soundtracked bow – travel restrictions, COVID-19 uncertainty, supply chain/delivery issues, rogue weather, office return and a bit of Heathrow expansion too.

It’s not particularly radical or different to all the other 'Christmas is back' campaigns we’ve seen, and I’m not your everyday Tesco shopper… but then I saw Gillian McKeith calling for the nation to #BoycottTesco as a result of Santa’s vaccine pass, so I am planning to do all my shopping there to spite her.

Sasha Marks, board director, Brazen

I’ve had to watch this three times because it’s so forgettable.

At least it got the anti-vaxxers talking – 1,500 complaints and Santa’s double-jabbed mugshot plastered across every newspaper and social platform.

A smart move or on the wrong side of risky?

A shot in the arm ahead of the most competitive month in retail, if you ask me.

Janelle Feliciano, creative director, The Romans

This one begins with some potential, but then it gets a bit on the nose. With just a few too many cultural clichés and political puns, it drags on. They could’ve just left us on a high with the Santa disaster sorted, but instead I’m reminded of all the highly realistic things that could or could not (or could!) potentially annoy me for the second year around. Oh gosh, is this my pandemic PTSD talking?

Jo Chappel, creative director, Fever

It’s a Now That’s What I Call a Christmas Ad 2021 mega-mix. Celebrating those going OTT and saying ‘baubles’ to last year à la Argos (right down to the fake TV news report) mixed with Asda’s snowy setting and an appearance from Ebenezer (not Ebanana, sadly).

I don’t mind this ad. It’s flamboyant and fun and features one of my all-time top karaoke songs as the soundtrack. But two weeks into the ‘official’ start of Christmas (ie when the John Lewis ad launches) it’s as stale as one of the paused mince pies from the Sainsbury’s ad.

And that’s the trouble with going later. There are a finite number of festive creative concepts adland can dream up this year, somewhat stymied by the weighty significance of it being the first ‘normal’ Christmas after the pandemic, and, as time goes on, they lose their shine and sparkle; a bit like the festive season itself.

Rachel O'Malley, senior creative, FleishmanHillard UK

I didn’t quite get this one. Lots of humorous COVID-19 references (too soon?) – to travel or not to travel, Santa getting quarantined, a Tesco car park empty of cars, supply chain issues. But all these were interspersed with other general Christmas activities and the overall result was a bit confused. But it was very Christmassy, so that’s a win.

Nick Woods, partner, Sunny Side Up

E-scooters, sparkling wine, glittery tops, dancing in tinsel, heroic delivery drivers, bribe-able elves,  a COVID passport for Santa, stock shortages being overcome with a little creativity, on-off travel, and “nothing stopping us”. Welcome to modern Britain. This is what Sainsbury’s could have had if they hadn’t spent their cash on fancy camerawork. Bravo, Tesco.

Sainsbury's, 'A Christmas to savour'

Sainsbury's is celebrating the return of a large family Christmas in an attempt to make up for last year, which did not deliver the shared experience many had hoped for.

The ad, by Wieden & Kennedy London, starts with the words "Welcome to Christmas", as the tree lights are plugged in. The scene then freezes and viewers are taken on a flying tour of a hectic household, zooming in on details that include a variety of Sainsbury's food.

Charlie Coney

Anyone remember that amazing one-take, bowling alley drone sequence doing the rounds a while back?

Or the mannequin challenge from 2016?

Don’t worry if you missed out, because here they both are, cleverly combined to produce this year’s Sainsbury’s ad, set to the soothing sound of At Last, by Etta James.

There are plenty of hidden details for the eagle-eyed viewer – although none quite so clever as Aldi’s Caterpillar arrest – and the food gets a good showing (surely the point).

However, the gloopy gravy towards the end is one of the most unappealing things I’ve seen on TV for a long time and, like the drone camera, I’ll be avoiding it like the plague. Are we allowed to use that metaphor anymore, or has it been boycotted like the Tesco ad?

Sasha Marks

My eyes!

That was a lot. I don’t know whether I feel sick, dizzy or anxious, but I definitely don’t feel like

I love the sentiment and message, the soundtrack definitely captured the mood of the nation,
and props for continuing to fly the diversity flag (please tell me you also spotted granny with Bimini Bon-Boulash on the Post-it note on her head?)

But no. It’s left me with a headache and wondering whether I need to get my eyes checked.

Less festive feels, more manic meal.

Janelle Feliciano

Ah, the old slo-mo bullet time technique… well, it has been 22 years since The Matrix, so I can’t get too annoyed. Bringing it back right round actually feels fresh again.

But you know what? Pairing bullet time to such a wholesome moment and then adding this perfect song captures exactly how many of us are going to feel this holiday season.

Nice one, Sainsbury’s. This is an absolute visual and audio treat. I just wish I could’ve experienced this art director candy in the cinema.

At last! A heartwarming, yet not so soppy or too try-hard Christmas ad.

Greg Double

Sainsbury’s is one of the most underrated Christmas ad-makers (see also McDonald’s) out there, but this year I thought it fell into the dreaded ‘meh’ category. The stylish one-take style reminded me of Sam Mendes’ direction for 1917, but the end product reminded me of Sam Mendes’ direction for Spectre – not as good as previous efforts.

The cool camerawork is undeniably cool, but cool alone doesn’t guarantee the emotional connection Christmas ads must have to be successful. Where’s the storytelling of the 1914 Christmas advert, the sense of fun with Mog, the touching humanity of last year’s gravy song? This was not a complete turkey, more a well-cooked and perfectly glazed parsnip. Aesthetically pleasing, but when Christmas is over, nobody remembers the parsnips.

Kim Allain

A Christmas to savour. Lovely tagline. However, I feel split about this ad. It gave food porn in a very succulent way that Marks & Spencer failed to deliver, so kudos to Saino’s. I love the concept: different and clever. But it was giving very much 2016 Rae Sremmurd mannequin challenge, but to At Last. Maybe it’s the song that threw it off, even though I get why the song was chosen. Also, some of those kiddos looked unnervingly doll-like in their frozen stances.

Nick Woods

I shop at Sainsbury’s as it’s both my nearest little store and my nearest big store. Which is lucky because this ad wouldn’t do anything to entice me to shop with them otherwise (would any of these ads??). It’s a technical triumph, but totally devoid of emotional connection. Duller than a grey Monday during dry January.

Rachel O'Malley

A super-sweet whistle-stop tour of all the things we’ve missed about Christmas: flying nuts, bad singing, spilt drinks, kids under the table, and a few other references I didn’t quite get but which had some significance, judging by the camera pan. Having watched a few of these now, it’s nice how straightforward it is – but, on the flip side, it does slightly feel like Sainsbury’s took itself out of the running for Best Christmas Ad this year.

I’m not sure anyone will remember it next year, but actually I think it’s one of the best we’ve seen because its simplicity is a reminder that Christmas isn’t about emotional ads or mass consumerism, it’s about pausing to enjoy in the moment what we missed out on last year.

Jo Chappel

At last; it’s the Sainsbury’s Christmas ad.

But, like the curdled last dregs in the obligatory bottle of festive Baileys, not all good things come to those who wait.

In case you didn’t get the memo, Aldi has won Christmas, so only a comprehensive and absolute festive blinder (Dua Lipa, Zendaya, Timothée Chalamet, a holographic Prince performing a remix of All I Want for Christmas… conducted by Lin-Manuel Miranda… live from Lapland dressed in festive Versace) is going to beat – or mash – the nation’s favourite, Ebanana Scrooge.

Sadly, the Sainsbury’s ad doesn’t quite cut the gravy. We all get it; last year Christmas was paused, so… the ad quite literally pauses Christmas. Forget Taste the Difference – it’s starting to look like yet another post-pandemic Christmas ad.

Still, it’s simple, single-minded and classily executed – helped by the earthy tones of Etta James as its soundtrack and ‘immersive’ first-person camera that made me feel a bit queasy. Or maybe that was just the lingering image of the thick, cold gravy and year-old Brussels sprouts.

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