It doesn’t matter if no one watches the Sainsbury’s movie, the PR job is already done

Yesterday I watched a trailer for a film. Except this was no Hollywood extravaganza starring the latest A-list celebrities. This was a trailer for a film by Sainsbury’s. The supermarket.

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This is Sainsbury’s Christmas marketing strategy.

The marketing blitz kicked off last night (13 November) during Coronation Street with a three and a half minute trailer. Sainsbury’s took over the entire middle ad break during Coronation Street, the first time broadcaster ITV has allowed any brand to do this.

Over the next few weeks it will run 40-second and 60-second trailers for the film on TV and push it on social media. Then there will be a premiere at a red carpet event in London before it goes online for anyone to watch.

This is a big shift for Sainsbury’s. This isn’t an ad trying to get us to spend our hard earned cash at its stores. In fact rivals’ products, including the Co-Op, appear in the ad.

Instead it’s a huge piece of branded content that Sainsbury’s has created and funded. It might be running a food and drink campaign alongside, but the film is what it is talking about.

It’s also what it wants everyone else talking about. That is the key here. In the increasingly crowded and competitive retail space, brands must come up with new and exciting ways to keep the masses chattering.

That’s even more the case now that consumers are increasingly online talking in real time on Twitter and Facebook. Content is a way for brands to make sure consumers are talking about them.

That’s why Wonga created a 30-minute film to attempt to win the heart of its critics and why John Lewis, Marks & Spencer et al are trying to tell stories with their ads. That enables them to engage with customers, to pull at their heart strings, to ask them questions and get them interacting.

Sainsbury’s says the film was borne out of a desire to understand its customers and their experiences at Christmas. It also claims it wants people to watch the film, all 47 minutes of it, hence the trailers.

In reality though, it doesn’t matter if nobody watches it. What is important is that people talk about it, that they associate it with Sainsbury’s and that it improves their perceptions of the brand.

It’s hard for the film not to do that. There are heart-warming moments of kids anxiously waiting for Santa, of a man with a spreadsheet planning Christmas dinner down to the latest minute.

The final scene, of a family sending a Christmas message to their Dad in Afghanistan and him walking into the room has brought a tear to the eye of all but the most cold hearted.

The risk? In that trying to do something new and outdo each other, retailers might actually end up driving customers away with the audacity of their undertaking.

For now customers are siding with Sainsbury’s and its emotional take on Christmas. It might not take much for them to switch sides.

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