A few years ago, Dan Fisher, then creative director at Adam & Eve/DDB, created "Monty the penguin" for John Lewis with his partner Richard Brim. When Fisher’s mum proudly popped down to the John Lewis in Newcastle to buy some toy penguins, she ended up in the local paper. That just doesn’t happen when you’re creating an ad for a bank’s new mortgage rate or even stylish films featuring famous people for sexy brands such as Beats by Dre.
But John Lewis’ Christmas ads delivered for the business as well – as the brand’s two gold Creative Effectiveness Lions attest. That has not always been the case for other brands that have chased after advertising fame.
Sainsbury’s has tried to claim Christmas as its own with a series of brave ads over the past three years. I cried at "Christmas in a day", admired the craft of "Christmas is for sharing" (while being a little conflicted over the commercialisation of war) and thoroughly enjoyed the return of Mog last year. In a press call after its Christmas figures were published, Sainsbury’s chief executive Mike Coupe said "Mog’s Christmas calamity" was its "most successful campaign ever" – by which he meant the number of YouTube views and people who took time out to watch it.
I hardly need to say views should not be the main measure of success. That’s not to say Sainsbury’s results were terrible. Yes, its like-for-like sales for the quarter to 9 January declined slightly – while Tesco and Morrisons achieved modest rises – but the number of transactions in that crucial week before Christmas increased by 2.6%. That said, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
As Simon Gwynn’s extensive analysis shows, our sources suggest Sainsbury’s wants its ads to be culturally relevant – beyond advertising awards and top-ten Christmas ads lists. A concern I’ve had about the big-budget ads of the past couple of years is that they didn’t seem to be joined up with the rest of Sainsbury’s advertising. In a world where brands are supposed to align customer experience across email, ecommerce, advertising and in-store, that seemed a bit of a shame.
Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO is a brilliant agency and has a proud history of work for Sainsbury’s over the past 35 years. It has also been here before. The Omnicom shop fought to hold the account 11 years ago and ended up driving £2.5bn of revenue growth. We’ll find out in the next week if the agency needs to prepare itself for battle again.