Sainsburys: ‘Christmas gives us a licence to talk to customers about more than food and drink’

Sainsbury’s head of brand Mark Given says the supermarket’s hopes to prove it understands its customers by showing that Christmas is about more than just food and drink with its World War I-themed festive campaign.

The ad features the famous Christmas day truce between German and English soldiers and focuses on the “sharing of simple moments and kindness” during the festive season. Speaking to Marketing Week, Given says he hopes the campaign will “inspire customers” to think about Christmas and what it means to them beyond the presents, decorations and food and drink.

“Customers tell us Christmas is a really special time that is about presents and food but also about sharing. We want to show we are a business that really understands our customers and what Christmas really means through this really incredible story in history. Christmas gives us a licence to talk to customers beyond our retail business,” he added.

TV, not social media, first

Unlike most retailers, Sainsbury’s opted to debut its Christmas ad on TV rather than on social media. Given said the move was aimed at making sure its customers saw the ad first and to allow its message to “speak for itself”, rather than being driven by PR buzz.

He said he has been “humbled” by the reaction so far, with the overwhelming majority of comments positive. Sainsbury’s hopes people will engage with the ad on social media and online. So far more than 1.1 million people have watched the ad on YouTube and Sainsbury’s has created films on the making of and story behind the campaign.

However, there has been some criticism of the ad for “cashing in” on the First World War.

Given said that given the sensitive nature of the story and its importance as a moment in history, the supermarket understood how important it would be to get the tone right and hoped to bring the story to life “sensitively, respectfully and accurately”. It worked closely with charity partner the Royal British Legion, basing it on original letters and reports, as well as working with historians throughout the development and production process.

Building loyalty

Sainsbury’s is one of a number of brands to eschew product-focused Christmas campaigns in favour of telling an emotional story. The Sainsbury’s brand is only revealed right at the end, along with the fact it was made in partnership with the Royal British Legion.

Given said while it might appear this is a risky strategy in reality there was “no risk” involved. He said there were no other retailers that could have made an ad like this, proving that Sainsbury’s understands its customers and can bring their values to life.

The brand campaign will be run alongside a retail campaign that will focus on the range and variety of Sainsbury’s Christmas products. Given said the hope is that by proving Sainbury’s understand its customers through the brand ad and showing its “great value” in product ads customers will reward the supermarket with their loyalty.

Beyond that, a key goal is to build awareness of the work the Royal British Legion does, not just for Armistice Day but all year round, as well as raise money for the charity both by selling the chocolate bar that appears in the ad and ensuring the charity remains front of mind.

Charles Byrne, director of fundraising for The Royal British Legion, says: “This is a great opportunity to maintain our profile and boost awareness of the Legion so people understand that we are working all year round to help servicemen and women.

“This is just one part of a long-term relationship with Sainsbury’s and a good extension of an already strong tie-up. This continues our work to keep the Legion front of mind, to raise funds and to make sure people are aware of the centenary [of World War I] and are engaged by it.”

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