Sainsbury’s tells Santa origin story in Victorian Christmas ad

Sainsbury’s is celebrating its 150th year with a Christmas campaign centred on how festive traditions such as Santa Claus and stockings could have come about.

Sainsbury’s is celebrating the culmination of its 150th year with a bold brand campaign that takes viewers back to Victorian England to consider how Christmas traditions such as Santa Claus and stockings could have come about.

The campaign, created by Wieden+Kennedy London, first airs this evening (12 November) during Emmerdale on ITV. It shows the humble beginnings of a young boy called Nicholas and how he may have gone on to become Santa Claus.

Set in Dickensian London, the story opens around the first-ever Sainsbury’s store in 1869, where founders John James and Mary Ann Sainsbury are showing off their wares. A basket overflowing with clementines catches the eyes of shoppers and a young group of chimney sweeps, one of whom is wrongly accused of stealing one.

Luckily for the young boy, called Nick, Mary Ann Sainsbury sees the whole event and rescues him before giving him his own sack of clementines. He then secretly drops clementines into the socks of his chimney sweep friends before dressing in a red coat and hat, and walking off towards a nearby group of reindeer, one of which has a red nose…

The campaign aims to celebrate the role Sainsbury’s has played at Christmas over the past 150 years. And in an increasingly cluttered advertising market, Sainsbury’s head of broadcast marketing, Laura Boothby, believes an idea that “makes people feel something” is increasingly important.

“It’s about coming up with an idea that makes people feel something,” she tells Marketing Week. “The beauty of this ad is there are moments of real goosebumps and lumps in the throat, but also a lot of humour as well.

“[The film] Elf is a really good example. You laugh, you cry, and everyone just loves it. We were trying to get that mix of everything.”

At Christmas, people want something joyful and special – colours and sparkles and festive. We can afford to step a little bit away from our brand assets as long as we keep the core.

Laura Boothby, Sainsbury’s

A number of new brands have entered the fray this year – including Selfridges and Ikea. Sainsbury’s usual point of difference of launching its Christmas ad after Armistice Day has also been curtailed as a number of brands, including John Lewis, Tesco and Waitrose, are yet to launch their festive campaigns.

“It is such a tough and cluttered market and everyone is talking about the food, it’s pretty hard to differentiate on that,” says Boothby.

“What we’re trying to do is cement Sainsbury’s with Christmas, create something that people are going to remember and is going to stay with people. We still do our food advertising, this very much complements that, but we want to start with a view of what we believe Christmas is about.”

Boothby feels Christmas gives Sainsbury’s a licence to “step away a little bit” from its marketing through the rest of the year because people are looking for something a bit different. However, it is key, she says, that people still know the ad is from Sainsbury’s – hence the clear branding at the beginning and use of the colour orange throughout.

“At Christmas, people want something joyful and special – colours and sparkles and festive. We can afford to step a little bit away from our brand assets as long as we keep the core,” she explains.

“We’re lucky in that we have really strong brand assets; orange is incredibly powerful for us. And we have a distinctive tone of voice and heritage as well. We almost start with that, because if people don’t know it’s a Sainsbury’s ad there’s no point to it. In the past, we might not have done that strongly enough.”

While Boothby won’t be drawn on spend, she says Sainsbury’s will be “full in all channels” with the aim of getting as many people as possible to see the campaign. The full film, which runs to two minutes and 30 seconds, will only appear online, but 90- and 60-second edits will run on TV.

This activity will be supported by press, outdoor and radio, where Sainsbury’s will also talk about its food and promotions, starting with gifting, then party food and finally key Christmas products including turkey and stuffing.

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