Expert Opinion

Christmas is for Winning

Today's Daily Mirror asks: Is the Sainsbury's Christmas advert 2014 a moving tribute or a cynical commercial? Leeds Beckett advertising expert and course leader for BA (Hons) Marketing and Advertising Management, Neil Kelley, contributed his thoughts about the new advert to the article and in this blog post he delves into the recent phenomenon of the Christmas advert.

Sainsbury's Christmas advert

(Sainsbury’s / PA, 2014)

There is some furore around the current Christmas advert from Sainsbury’s... cynical, genius, manipulative, moving, dangerous, stunning, low, incredible – all observed via a quick scan of twitter using ‘Sainsbury’s’ as the keyword.

There are also some comments on Twitter that offer more insight into an emerging relationship between advertising and social media. “Sainsbury’s have won Christmas”, “well done Sainsbury’s – you smashed it”, “sorry Monty – you’ve been severely outdone” and “You can shove your Penguin up your $@*&”

Technology has been instrumental in turning the release of Christmas adverts in to something of a competition – roared on by the vocal ranks on social media – where the focus is primarily on winning, having the best idea, the one that made you cry the most and good old competitive one-up-manship. But anyway, why would the big department stores and supermarkets want to stop it, whilst social media offers up its opinions we’re keeping that message, and that publicity, going aren't we?

The advertisement for Sainsbury’s this Christmas is clearly moving, and the humanity represented (being based on a true story) is a truly beautiful thing - humanity shown in the middle of one of the bloodiest wars in modern history – but is it really a story that should be used to win a Christmas advertising battle for the most tearful response?

Sir John Hegarty (2011), founder of the agency BBH, states that great ideas in advertising stem from irreverence – and you could argue that, based on the content of discussion about the subject - that this advert most definitely ticks that box. He continues that the function of irreverence is to help question the norm or brings things to our attention – with sincerity, integrity and sympathy – if not then it may just appear to be exploitation.

Some perceive the sincerity and integrity in the message and the charitable links reinforce that. They’re getting something from the message that others, who just see irreverence, don’t.

For those who perceive this as irreverent, that it lacks respect, and as it is ultimately a vehicle to turn the viewer towards Sainsbury’s as a brand, and the key response is derived cognitive dissonance.

Woah, cognitive dissonance?

It’s a feeling of discomfort or confusion – what we need to do when we feel this way is get the consistency back in our thoughts... ultimately, we’re confused because we don’t understand the point of it. This is a touching story, that as well as supporting and celebrating a charitable link, but ultimately it is still being used for commercial gain.

When it comes to the importance of storytelling, what is the link between the Sainsbury’s brand, a WW1 truce and a bar of chocolate? Well, as mentioned previously, there’s the donation to the Royal British Legion, that’s great, but is that enough to make sense of their approach? For me, it still doesn’t make the use of this story acceptable - it’s not enough – there is still cognitive dissonance, and one way of trying to reduce it is writing this!

Personally, I still don’t quite get the point. The sceptic in me screams it’s about ‘increasing Sainsbury’s Christmas sales at all costs’ but the optimist whispers ‘it’s a positive Christmas message about sharing and not losing sight of our humanity even in the most hideous of circumstances’.

The academic states ‘it’s an advert, designed to elicit a powerful emotional response, possibly transformational, to make us think, feel and act a certain way... all linked to the themes running through the 3minute 40second message’,... whilst the marketer in me shrugs his shoulders and says ‘it’s looking to win awards’... and, then, my four year old daughter comes in to the room and sings at me ‘Let it go’ – perhaps I should listen to her more?!

Neil Kelley

Course Director / Leeds Business School

Neil Kelley is a Senior Lecturer and Course Leader for the Marketing Subject Group at Leeds Business School. Neil is responsible for both undergraduate marketing degrees, Marketing Management and Marketing with Advertising Management.

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