Daniel Pallett, planning director, Pulse Group
Daniel Pallett, planning director, Pulse Group
A view from Daniel Pallett

Think BR: What are the supermarkets serving up for Christmas?

With the festive ad season upon us again what do the supermarkets have in store for us, asks Daniel Pallett, planning director, Pulse Group.

The Christmas ads from the UK's biggest retailers and supermarkets have hit our screens, and as ever are igniting debate amongst marketers and the general public alike.

This year’s batch is an eclectic mix, but also follows a general theme based around human experiences and family ties. Specific roles, in particular the mum of the household, have been examined in detail, with differing effects, and an emphasis has been placed on giving, both in the gift sense (John Lewis), and the charity sense (Waitrose). 

All the offerings are bound to get tongues wagging, but what is interesting this year, as we move into a 2013 devoid of Olympics, Jubilee celebrations and other major events, is how many of these brands can raise a smile amongst consumers who are most likely feeling the pinch this Christmas.

Asda has taken a bit of flak for its ad, especially from those who feel it has a sexist slant, but if you look at it less cynically, it champions mum’s role at Christmas in a humorous and engaging way. It’s refreshingly unsentimental and the soundtrack/editing complements this well, whilst acknowledging the amount of work Mums have to do over the festive period.


Morrisons’ effort also focuses on the Mum role, and its quirky execution does help it stand out against the other maternal insights we’re seeing this Christmas. 

However, I’m not sure that it’s going to appeal to Morrisons’ core target audience, who are probably used to a much more straight forward message and a more sentimental approach. 

Although humorous, it may miss the mark with some people. What’s more, there isn’t even a powerful acoustic version of a classic 80s track to keep their attention.

Staying with family, Sainsbury’s campaign  uses an effective ‘days of Christmas’ mechanic to demonstrate a host of different insights about the festive season. The ad, with its on-trend ubiquitous acoustic soundtrack, is very simply executed but done in a way that that will appeal to families, particularly those with young children. 

This is a knowing nod to the family unit at Christmas and their different roles and agendas, which comes across as familiar without seeming stereotypical.  

The Co-op has also chosen to stick to familiar family territory, with its straight forward Christmas  message that is delivered through a look at different Christmas occasions and trigger points.

It’s not overly emotive in its execution but does cover a wide range of observations, that again allows consumers to identify with the familiar and smile knowingly at the depiction of common Christmas occurrences. It’s not a bad ad, but it’s not groundbreaking, and it feels more like a more traditional, tried and tested formula.

The two supermarkets bucking the trend this year are Tesco and Waitrose. Waitrose’s charity focused piece with Delia and Heston is undoubtedly meant to cause surprise and delight by their decision to spurn ‘fancy’ Christmas ad campaigns in favour of a heartfelt pledge to give more to local causes.

It is of course a noble act, and maybe it’s my turn to play the cynic, but you can’t help but wonder why didn’t they do this charity approach last year instead of 2011’s Waitrose School of Christmas Magic. Still, it is a differentiator and will certainly appeal to their core target audience.

Tesco’s offering is simple - high minded moral values here, just good deals. It’s gone for an appealingly unusual approach with a singing Furby which sets the Tesco tone well and ties in nicely with their typically humorous and irreverent style. 

It also shows empathy with their shoppers in terms being promotionally led whilst simultaneously managing to be light hearted and optimistic.

Although not a supermarket, no Christmas ad review is complete without a look at the master of pulling festive heartstrings. John Lewis wrote the book on emotional, sentimental and massively insightful Christmas advertising that has been unique and has helped set them apart from their competition.

This year’s campaign is beautifully made but, in its attempt to stay ahead of the game, I can’t help but feel John Lewis is fast turning into the U2 of Christmas ad campaigns. I’m sure there are many who will disagree.

Daniel Pallett, planning director, Pulse Group