‘What have you done, Asda?’ – PRWeek Xmas panel: Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons, Boots, Sports Direct

PRWeek UK has assembled a team of creative comms experts to critique some of this year’s major festive campaigns. Today: Sports Direct, Sainsbury’s, Boots, Asda and Morrisons

Sports Direct

Sports Direct’s ‘Give Me Football’ campaign was developed by COPA90 and directed by Freddie Waters of Pulse Films. Each of the trio of 20-second videos parodies the classic themes typically presented on TV screens during the Christmas season.

Starring Eric Cantona, Mason Mount, Declan Rice, Jarrod Bowen, Thierry Henry, Emma Hayes, Gabriel Jesus and commentator Clive Tyldesley, the spots put a footballing twist on classic festive themes.

Indy Selvarajah, chief creative officer, Ketchum

“I loved this. It’s really funny. Brilliant (natural) performances from all the football players, past and present, and that’s where the gold is.

I’m hoping there is a two-minute director’s cut, as it could easily have been longer.

You can tell that the creatives and director would have had great fun creating and making this, which can’t be said for all the ads around this time of the year.

Best Christmas ad I’ve seen so far.”

Scott Dimbleby, creative director, W Communications

“With the weirdest World Cup ever set to be the backdrop of Christmas 2023, it would seem Mike Ashley has put his hand in his pocket! The cast of stars featured might actually be bigger than their infamous mugs, and I can’t help but enjoy Sports Direct’s series of entirely unconnected but entertaining shorts.

Cantona carries each one as masterfully as his iconic first touch with a level of wit that is on point; nor does it try too hard – well, apart from the perfume parody.

However, I do think it’s a real shame the only women’s football star featured is Chelsea’s boss Emma Hayes, particularly in light of the nation’s post-Euros party earlier this summer and ongoing momentum behind the WSL.”

James Gordon-MacIntosh, co-founder and chief creative officer, Hope&Glory

“Sports Direct clearly couldn’t afford to make a World Cup ad and a Christmas ad so they’ve managed to bring the two occasions together in this one spot. And it has to be said they’ve done a pretty good job of it.

The ever-endearing Eric Cantona alongside Thierry Henry and assorted others strikes a balance between those who care about the beautiful game and those more interested in the festive turkey.

If I had any criticism, it would be that it’s a bit of an in-joke that might not appeal to those who are buying football-related gifts as much as those receiving them. But that’s a trifling concern about what is an otherwise spot-on combination of the two biggest festivals of the year colliding.”

Suzanne Haysler, head of consumer, The PHA Group

“This series of ads was pretty much perfect. Sports Direct shows a very good understanding of its audience here and has smashed it out of the park.

This campaign is a very witty take on the typical Christmas ad and a smart way to build the brand in the lead-up to the World Cup. Above all, I love the way that none of the three ads did the hard sell for any products, a trap that many brands can fall into during precious air time.”

Oli Miller, associate creative director, Pangolin

“Sports Direct, for obvious reasons, has leaned into the Winter World Cup pretty hard here, and personal feelings about this tournament aside, it is nice to feel the energy ramping up for the competition.

I really like that Sports Direct has managed to combine and poke fun at Christmas clichés, fragrance ads, and even Black Mirror – while harnessing some absolutely superb cameos to supplement King Eric’s lead role.

The trio of different concepts with Cantona as a common thread stops the ads from getting stale and is a safe bet to be popular with football fans.”


Sainsbury’s

This year’s campaign was created by Wieden+Kennedy London. Centring on one of the most divisive foods, the traditional Christmas pudding, the campaign aims to bring to life the imagination that breathed new life into the festive staple.

Set in a medieval world where a festive feast is being planned, a Countess, played by Alison Hammond, is in charge of choosing the food, but her distaste for Christmas pudding means it is strictly off the menu. That is, until a young cook changes her mind.

Indy Selvarajah

“It’s a nice enough ad. Sort of passed me by a bit, nothing especially memorable.

And, it’s always interesting when a ‘reality star’ is put among real actors, as you can immediately see the difference in ability.”

Scott Dimbleby

“Sainsbury’s foray into the world of festive advertising is summed up within 29 seconds of this year’s effort – ‘Something different’ is what’s ordered, and something different is exactly what they've delivered.

Gone are the extravagant storylines or over-the-top narratives of past years, instead being replaced with a splash of talent and a sprinkle of perfectly presented over-manufactured product cutaways.

But do you know what… it’s exactly the difference I want to taste.

For me, Christmas is all about getting into the kitchen and whipping up memories for our loved ones (or Countesses). It’s a refreshing, light-hearted, and simply fun way to get people talking – and tucking into their festive range.

Nice one, Sainsbury’s. That’s a bit of me, that.”

Suzanne Haysler

“Alison Hammond as a Queen (of huns, surely), a Christmassy version of Teenage Dirtbag and a new take on Christmas pudding – there is a lot to like here. In some ads, the product placement can feel stilted and unnatural but I think Sainsbury’s has woven hero products into the storyline in way that makes sense, which is not always an easy task!

I also thought the way Sainsbury’s famous tagline ‘Taste the difference’ was communicated was great. I did, however, think Alison’s performance was a bit stiff at times, but it didn’t ruin it for me in a big way.”

Oli Miller

“I am always pleased to see funny ads, and this is one. Stephen Fry returns to narrate, Alison Hammond plays against type as the villain, and you get Teenage Dirtbag on the lute – I just like it.

Having said that, Sainsbury’s has had some backlash, an opulent feast at a time of economic instability. I get it, but this is set in a fantasy world, we’re all allowed a little escapism.

If you’re wondering who else doesn’t like it: your classic racists. As Lenny Henry recently said: ‘They have no trouble believing in a dragon, but they do have trouble believing that a black person could be a member of the court.’ Sainsbury’s has history agitating the worst sort of people on Twitter – more, please.”


Boots

‘Joy for All’ shows how Boots can help everyone find joy with its most affordable Christmas ever.

Directed by Si&Ad through Academy films, the film tells the story of Holly, who discovers a pair of magical glasses that wield the power for her to see the ‘joy’ hidden inside the people around her. She sees her colleague who enjoys indulging in bubble baths, her cousin who loves getting glam and her dad who finds joy in his beloved pet dog.

Scott Dimbleby

“Someone in the Boots creative team must have recently seen John Carpenter’s seminal 1988 satirical sci-fi horror They Live. But whereas They Live’s magic glasses let the hero witness the alien overlords crushing humanity under the thumb of consumerism, the Boots version has them seeing all the wonderful things they can buy their loved ones for Christmas… actually, maybe they’re not so different after all.

Being serious, though, this is a fun and unique ad that doesn’t use unconventional settings or storylines to make its point, it keeps Christmas where we all know it is – the parties, the joy, the relaxation and, crucially, the search for the perfect gift. The magic glasses show people’s innermost desires, and what they need to get it, guiding the protagonist to make their Christmas dreams come true.

If only it was so easy…”

James Gordon-MacIntosh

“Boots as Christmas retailer does not conjure images of high-quality gifting, let’s be honest. Stocking-fillers and bubble baths for the truly uninspired is perhaps its stronger association.

However, this does its best to debunk those preconceptions with a spot that shows our protagonist using her (presumably Boots-prescribed) spectacles to know exactly what people really want. As a spot that manages to move associations of pressie-shopping at Boots on, it does a remarkable job – even if the bubble bath does make an appearance. I’d also observe this spot does a better job of representing a diverse population than any other I’ve seen so far this festive season.”

Suzanne Haysler

“The concept of a pair of glasses that can tell you what everyone wants for Christmas is interesting, I’d definitely buy them!

However, as I watched the story unfold I couldn’t help but think that, while it was cute and lightly sentimental, it wasn’t anything amazingly special or unique, not to mention that I feel like I’ve heard the same song used as a backtrack to numerous other ads before. But I did think that the breadth of different present options available at Boots came through nicely and I liked the diversity of the cast.”

Oli Miller

“Could be that I’m losing my edge, because I also liked this.

It’s so functional while being joyful. Maybe it’s Hall & Oates, or maybe because it’s actually just nice to see people happy? Sure, all this happiness is thanks to gifts found at Boots, which in my experience is the shop you go to for things the recipient has told you they’re after, rather than because you had an inkling they wanted a bath bomb – but that’s hardly the ad’s fault.

One thing I would say is that it feels like it possibly doesn’t quite have the budget as some of the other adverts on this list – just not quite as polished.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that no meaningful attempt was made to return the glasses – Santa literally had to steal them back.”


Asda

Asda’s new 90-second Christmas spot, ‘Have your Elf a Merry Christmas’, introduces Buddy the Elf, under licence from Warner Bros.

The campaign uses original footage and lines that place Buddy right at the heart of an Asda store in the build-up to his favourite time of year, Christmas.

Indy Selvarajah

“No words. What have you done, Asda? One of the greatest Christmas films has been well and truly butchered. Not just in the idea, but the post-production on this is so shoddy at times, too.

Will Ferrell wasn’t a producer on the original film so doesn’t even get a royalty kickback on this mess. Not-so-Happy Christmas Will, and all of us having to see this.”

Scott Dimbleby

“My first thought on opening this one was a tinge of disappointment, just like when the present under the Christmas tree isn’t remotely what you wanted.

It features Will Ferrell from the film Elf, very literally taken from individual film scenes, painstakingly rotoscoped and with a sprinkle of CGI fairy dust, and transposed into a variety of Christmas scenarios working at Asda.

Wouldn’t it be better to have got the real Will Ferrell, as he is today, reprising his role, rather than copied and pasted from 2003?

I’m pleased to say, however, the charm and creativity of how he interacts with staff won me over in about 15 seconds. From sampling pigs in blankets to singing over the PA, it’s a warm and cosy Christmas blanket. If nostalgia is the food of advertising creatives, I’ll have a second helping.”

James Gordon-MacIntosh

“Right. I’m going to be contrarian. Don’t call me a Grinch, but I really don’t like this spot.

I genuinely feel like someone somewhere thought they were making a Christmas film to delight the nation, rather than an ad for Asda. Look, it’s charming, it’s nostalgic, it’s a Christmas favourite reborn and technically it’s very clever. But I’m not really getting anything other than the warm and fuzzies from this spot.

I’m sure there will be plenty of follow-up 15” and 30” spots with big starburst price messages and perhaps some sweeping food-porn shots to entice me to buy the Asda range this Christmas. But as a launch spot, this says nothing to me about the brand or why I should put them on my Christmas list. It’s a 10 out of 10 for effort. It’s somewhat lower for achievement.”

Olivia Mushigo, senior creative, Talker Tailor

“Nostalgia at its finest. Will Ferrell reprising his iconic role as Buddy was just what we needed. The subtle nods to the film made you feel like you were re-watching the nation’s favourite Christmas film.

The one scene I think it needed was the Spaghetti scene to bring it all back to food, which is why most people go to Asda, right?”

Oli Miller

“I don’t think we need insider info to tell us that this probably wasn’t cheap – Asda has licensed a modern Christmas classic, as well as Will Ferrell’s image rights. This is pretty ambitious.

I like Elf and you know fitting the narrative around Buddy’s lines would have been fun for the team involved. What’s not to like?”

If anything, I’m a bit dismayed by the timing of this one. I think they should have timed this around John Lewis’ release – take the Goliath of Christmas ads on and let public sentiment decide which is top of the tree. To be fair, though, if I’d spent this sort of money I’d want it running as early as possible too.”


Morrisons

Morrisons is bringing back Farmer Christmas for the second year running as part of its seasonal campaign.

The 60-second campaign TV ad, created with Publicis Poke, showcases the “real-life elves” who help make more than half of the fresh food that Morrisons sells.

Farmer Christmas has been integrated throughout the whole of this year’s campaign to highlight Morrisons’ festive range, with his ‘seal of approval’ the common thread throughout.

Scott Dimbleby

“Despite Morrison’s long holding a place in my heart as a result of spending my late teenage years organising their newspapers each Sunday, I’m going to be a little critical of this one – it might be the biggest ‘turkey’ so far. Where’s the fun? Where’s the frivolity?

All I can see is functional product messaging disguised by a man on a fairy-lit tractor claiming to be ‘Farmer Christmas’. Pushed for my favourite part, I’d say the colour grade is pretty smart and the gammon looked delicious, too.”

James Gordon-MacIntosh

“Now this is more like it. Morrisons feels like it knows what it’s about. A, let’s face it, pretty thin narrative context in which to talk about their food and convince a nation looking for ways to save a quid or two to shop at Morrisons.

Farmer Christmas manages to be both an endearing avuncular figure and a hard-nosed ham salesman all at the same time and the spot marries the festive feel with the brand’s well-established association with the origins of their food and relationship with their producers. In a year where supermarkets have got to get the sell right, this hits the right notes for me.”

Suzanne Haysler

“Cutting to the chase – last year’s introduction of ‘Farmer Christmas’ was better. I still like the pun and the (not-so) subtle nod to the fact that Morrisons champions British farmers, but this year felt way more product-heavy and less cinematic.

The best Christmas campaigns inspire some sort of emotive response and this one didn’t for me, which automatically makes it a bit forgettable, unfortunately.”

Olivia Mushigo

“I love a talk-to-camera piece because I end up nodding and talking back; a great way to engage with viewers… or is it just me who does that? As a supermarket brand, they did well to highlight all the delicious food.

I also liked the switch from Father Christmas to Farmer Christmas – a clever and subtle way of spotlighting Morrison’s association with the British farming industry.”

Oli Miller

“If Asda’s was ambitious, for me, this was anything but. To be fair, it has a simple premise – replace Father with Farmer and see how that plays out. Fair enough.

But it lacks any real attempt at humour and feels a little self-serving – you want a little emotion in these ads and it looks like any endeavour to do that has been edited out.

It’s not a bad advert, or a bad-looking one; I just feel at such a competitive time of year, Morrisons isn’t doing anything to stand out.”


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