Just hear those till bells ringing: a return for the big-spend supermarket TV campaigns

Following a few frugal years, supermarkets are set to splash out this year’s Christmas ads

Supermarkets are preparing a series of blockbuster television campaigns to turn the Christmas shopping period into British advertising’s answer to the Superbowl final – culminating with the X Factor final on the second weekend in December.

Several supermarkets have already booked entire commercial breaks for single three minute epic ads during the weeks up to Christmas and television spend by the sector is up by nine per cent for November and ten per cent for December.

The spending is an indication that several years of “austerity” in Christmas advertising is over.

“This year people will splash out a little bit more than they have for the last three or four Christmases,” said one source. “The commercials can reflect a more sumptuous style and be a little bit less hair shirt.”

Morrison’s and Asda both focused last year’s campaigns on hardworking mothers funding Christmas in hard times. But advertising agencies have been given increased budgets this year and Tesco and Sainsbury’s are both expected to produce ambitious and inspirational campaigns, while John Lewis and Marks & Spencer will compete for Woolworth’s old position as the star billing in Christmas advertising. Marks & Spencer will launch its “Believe in Magic & Sparkle” campaign at a West End premiere next week.

Stewart Easterbrook, ceo of leading media agency Starcom MediaVest, said supermarkets were responding to signs of “green shoots” in the economy.

“We have had years of the austerity message and marketers are rightly picking up that customers will be receptive to a message about the experience of Christmas and fun and life’s little luxuries – not just about making Christmas bearable from a cost point of view.”

Tesco is expected to move away from budget pricing messages to emphasise the joys of a Christmas lunch and John Lewis has lined up Lily Allen to sing a Keane cover that could be propelled to a Christmas number one by the ad campaign.

Last year's John Lewis ad. With its deployment of sentimentality, the department store has set the standard over recent Christmases Last year's John Lewis ad. With its deployment of sentimentality, the department store has set the standard over recent Christmases  

Ian Pearman, ceo of Britain’s biggest advertising agency AMV BBDO, said: “The positive economic news mean that brands will be able to be a little less self-consciously thrifty in their representation of Christmas; value messages will still be incredibly important, but their creative wrapping is likely to be a little more sparkly and a little less brown paper.

“Previous Christmas campaigns from the likes of Asda and Morrison were all perspiration and little inspiration. That will undoubtedly change this year. Expect more ‘sunny uplands’ and ambition from all brands.”

The supermarket campaigns will begin in the first week of November and will be carried along by the final rounds of X Factor. ITV has set advertising for the final of the talent show this year at “Platinum Special” rates, of up to 50 per cent more than a normal X Factor rate of around £95,000 for a 30-second spot.

Kelly Williams, ITV’s commercial sales director, said he was expecting “bespoke campaigns” to be made for this year’s final rounds of X Factor, replicating the ambition of yoghurt brand Yeo Valley, which created a mythical boy band The Churned for the talent show’s ad break.

“We invest billions of pounds in producing fantastic content and we are trying to get the advertising industry to make the ad break as entertaining,” he said.

ITV is in by far the strongest position of the broadcasters and can expect much supermarket activity around some of its other big soaps and shows, especially the 10 November season finale of Downton Abbey (which has a sponsorship relationship with Tesco) and a new series of I’m a Celebrity (Morrison’s sponsors presenters Ant and Dec).

Tesco will surely opt for something more ambitious than their 2012 campaign Tesco will surely opt for something more ambitious than their 2012 campaign

Other broadcasters will benefit from the uplift in spending, although Channel 4, which is in particular need of a strong final quarter, does not have the marquee family shows of the ITV schedule.

The increased ad spend by supermarkets follows a report by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) which showed that the number of companies increasing their marketing budgets was at a 13-year high in the third quarter of 2013.

Paul Bainsfair, the director general of the IPA, said that television was benefiting from the trend in “second screening”, where people watch shows while simultaneously using social media sites on mobile devices.

“It seems to be fuelling more viewership of these must-watch shows where watching live is crucial because you want to be in touch with all your mates when they are watching – rather than time-shifting the programme and watching it on your own.”

Advertisers expect second screening to result in a surge of impulse online purchases when blockbuster ads are being shown.

Branding consultant Kate Hardcastle, of Insight with Passion, said that supermarkets have a once-a-year opportunity with their Christmas campaigns to create a lasting emotional connection with shoppers. “By doing that you get high brand worth for the rest of the year,” she said.



Under a campaign named “Believe in Magic & Sparkle”, M&S is expected to produce something sumptuous. Agency RKCR Y&R is likely to deploy the expensive M&S line up of 12 “leading ladies” (including Dame Helen Mirren, Tracey Emin, Monica Ali and Ellie Goulding), which it unveiled in August in a photoshoot by Annie Leibovitz. M&S will be competing with John Lewis for Woolworth’s old crown for the most filmic Christmas campaign.


Advertising agency Adam&Eve DDB has much expectation to live up to following its memorable deployment of sentimentality over recent Christmases. Last year featured a snowman looking for love. For this campaign it has secured Lily Allen to sing the soundtrack, a cover of Keane’s 2004 hit “Somewhere Only We Know”. John Lewis has already begun promoting its Top 5 children’s Christmas toys based on a “when I grow up” theme.


Expect something more indulgent than last year’s penny-counting campaign (pictured right), which focused on the “small emotional moments” of a family Christmas rather than anything lavish. Tesco, which saw profits fall 23.5 per cent in the first half of this year, will be looking for its agency Wieden + Kennedy (which also works for Nike) to give it a brand refresh. Rumours are that the focus will be on the big Christmas Day lunch. Tesco is anxious to encourage consumers to spend more time in store and to move away from the idea that they are a budget brand. It will also want to promote its new tablet, the Hudl, a potential favourite Christmas gift.


Also widely expected to move away from the cautious approach of last year, when its “Christmas Days at Sainsbury’s” campaign matched Tesco in highlighting the “small moments” of the season. Expect more ambition this time from its agency AMV BBDO. Sainsbury’s, which has been promoting itself as the friend of the British farmer, has the comfort of having recorded a recent rise in sales.


While Tesco and Sainsbury’s switch the emphasis to quality over price, Asda sees no reason to abandon that turf. “I actually think that price can still be a differentiator and we think we can still own and dominate that space,” Stephen Smith, Asda’s chief marketing officer, told Marketing magazine. Asda, which is promoting itself as a retailer of electrical goods and clothing as well as food, recently hired ad agency VCCP and immediately set it to work on a brand refreshing campaign from Bonfire Night through to Christmas. Last year Asda tried to reflect difficult economic times by highlighting the work of a hard-pressed mother at Christmas. It prompted 620 complaints alleging sexism.


Like Asda, Morrison’s went with a hair-shirt campaign last year, highlighting the worst Christmas nightmares of a mum wrestling with the turkey, a needle-shedding tree and a mother-in-law from hell. This year it has adopted presenters Ant & Dec, sponsoring their programmes, and the relationship will continue up to Christmas with the ITV fundraiser Text Santa, which the Geordie pair will host on 20 December. Morrison’s – whose ad agency is DLKW Lowe – is likely to target the return of blockbuster show I’m a Celebrity – also presented by Ant & Dec.

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