Peace amid the price war: Sainsbury's Christmas ad

Sainsbury's Christmas ad featuring the famous festive football game between the German and British soldiers conveys the importance of human values at Christmas, writes Tracey Follows, former retail marketer and out-going chief strategy officer of JWT.

Peace amid the price war
Peace amid the price war

When it comes to advertising, Christmas is our Superbowl.

The brands are under the spotlight, as we wait with baited breath to see what they can pull out of the bag to get consumers feeling the Christmas spirit enough to spend their money in their stores.

But can Santa actually deliver this year, a year in which it has never been financially tougher for either the retailers, or their customers. 

Sainsbury’s has confirmed that it will be kicking off its Christmas campaign with an ad that focuses on the famous football match that took place between the British and German forces on 24 and 25 December 1914, to mark the 100-year anniversary of the start of the First World War. 

It is easy to forget that 100 years ago, men and women fought the war to end all wars

Sainsbury’s would not comment on the content of the ad, as yet unseen, but confirmed that the activity is part of an ongoing partnership they have had with the Royal British Legion over the last 20 years. 

Whatever the content, it’s the context which is more striking. Our news channels are bristling with images of war being waged across borders of all kinds: from the ISIL rampage which is redrawing the map in the Middle East, to the reaffirmation of Imperialist Russia in the Ukraine, and the ongoing conflict over Gaza. 

It is easy to forget that 100 years ago, men and women fought the war to end all wars. 

Closer to home, we have our own political warring factions, fighting over territory: the Scottish yes campaign that gave way to the devolution debate, the ‘brexit’ factions of the right and the emergence of UKIP.

Defending what’s ours, and shrugging off the need for a more global, collective, outlook on the world seems to have taken grip on us like a strain of Ebola. We’ve caught the fever and it’s called nationalism. 

The German price war

What has this got to do with shopping for your groceries this Christmas? Well, it has everything to do with it. 

Those European interlopers Aldi and Lidl have brought about a discounting nightmare for British incumbents, most notably Tesco and Sainsbury, that has sparked a price war so deep and long, we have not seen the like of it before. Aldi and Lidl have encroached on the comfortable territory that once was ruled by the mid-market players and squeezed them till their pips squeaked.

The response has been for Morrisons and Asda to slash product prices, and for Tesco and Sainsbury to promise a price match  - either way, all the brands’ propositions add up to the same: come to us for the lowest low prices. 

Who cares if Tesco is offering a price match, if most of the board has been suspended over an investigation into misreporting of its finances to the tune of £250m

Problem with this is that there is only so much ‘economy’ messaging we can take. Yes, it’s bad. The cost of living is increasing, and people aren’t yet feeling the recovery in real terms. But brands don’t connect through showing people the world as it is, as much as they do by showing them a world as it could be, or ought to be. 

And that’s where, as consumers, we want to see a brand wear its values well. Who cares if Tesco is offering a price match, if most of the board has been suspended over an investigation into misreporting of its finances to the tune of £250m.

An obsessive focus on economy seems to have been to the detriment of upholding core values such as honesty, integrity and responsibility. We await the results of the investigation of course. 

Value vs values: humanity vs economics

Whenever there is war, one can overlook what is most important: humanity. That which binds us is so much stronger than that which divides us.

Economy is necessary, but humanity is essential. And if the retailer brands don’t convey their human values at all this Christmas, and rely solely on the economics of a Christmas shop, they will fail to reconnect with customers. 

Aldi and Lidl have great offers, but do they offer great values? What Sainsbury’s is doing is to remind us of that difference.

And what better time to do it than at Christmas when our schmaltz detectors are offline, and though the price war rages on, we all deserve a bit of peace.

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