Why Sainsbury’s featuring Co-op items is a triumph for Christmas adverts

The “real life” footage used in Sainsbury’s Christmas in a Day commercial is just that

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The Independent Online

The eagle-eyed marketing people at Co-op have scored a few PR points by spotting three of the supermarket’s food products in the Christmas ad for rival Sainsbury’s.

Reverse product placement! The big advertising moment of the year, the blockbuster Christmas commercial, and it ends up promoting a rival brand! To corporate control freaks it might seem a sackable offence. Not to my mind.

In the manipulative world of modern television – where content is so often subject to the brand police and the political spin doctors - it’s nice to know that the “real life” footage used in Sainsbury’s Christmas in a Day commercial is just that.

The sequence in question features a chap called Jonathan Proud, who films himself making his meticulous Christmas dinner preparations. Evidently some Co-op products found their way onto Mr Proud’s balance sheet (which he holds up for the camera) and they can be spotted in the background on his worktop.

Mr Proud’s footage was part of 360 hours of film gathered by the Scottish director Kevin Macdonald for this special project. Macdonald asked the public to send him film of how they spent last Michaelmas so that he could show how Britain “really celebrates Christmas”.

I’m a big fan of Macdonald’s. He’s probably best known for the Idi Amin feature film Last King of Scotland but he won an Oscar for the documentary One Day in September, about the terrorist massacre at the Munich Olympics in 1972. One of his most remarkable productions was Life in a Day, which involved people all over the world contributing home footage in a single 24 hour period. Christmas in a Day was an extension of that, a lovely idea. Sainsbury’s was the sponsor and they got a Christmas advert out of it.

The commercial is a triumph. In a review of this year’s Christmas ads in Marketing Week, Sainsbury’s offering was declared the outright winner.

The format ensures it has an authenticity that other supermarkets have gone to great lengths to capture by employing actors and animators. Yet the familiar routines of 25 December give the film a narrative and there is a wonderful finale as the children in an Army family are reunited with their soldier dad for Christmas.

And yes, because the footage is real, these everyday homes have other products in the background, including some Co-op food. I’m pleased that Kevin Macdonald didn’t notice that – and would be even happier if he did, but decided to leave it in anyway.