The battle for the “best Christmas ad” has long raged across retailers in the U.K. However, since 2010 it has become increasingly intense with ever-more spectacular productions.
The latest entrant to this year’s de facto competition is supermarket chain Sainsbury’s. A three-and-a-half-minute spot, released on November 12, is so spectacular, so full of detail and craft, and furthermore, blessed with a heart-warming theme, that U.K. tabloids have declared it to have “won” Christmas.
Sainsbury’s and its ad agency AMV BBDO worked with author Judith Kerr and publisher HarperCollins Children’s Books to resurrect “Mog,” a charming cat owned by the Thomas family, which featured in a popular book series by Kerr until his sad demise in Goodbye Mog in 2002. Kerr has written a new story, “Mog’s Christmas Calamity” upon which the ad is based.
Mog was brought to life by Framestore (Paddington, Gravity) for the ad, in which the hapless cat inadvertently sets the Thomas home on fire and prompts neighbors to come together to help the stricken family celebrate Christmas. The film is narrated by Emma Thompson, directed by James Rouse and Academy Award- winning Rachel Portman (Emma, Chocolat) composed the score.
Sainsbury’s has been a fairly recent participant in the Christmas ad wars. Its 2013 spot, directed by Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void, The Last King of Scotland) used crowd-soured clips of home-movie footage. Last year’s slightly controversial spot was made in partnership with the Royal British Legion and commemorated the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, recreating the Christmas Day truce of 1914.
This years offering is, if possible, an even more complex production and raises questions as to the strategic value of participating in the race to own the most talked about Christmas film. Sainsbury’s is struggling in a difficult market, under attack from discounters from one side and premium grocers from the other. It has experienced falling sales for the last two years and recently posted a 17.9% drop in profits for the six months to the end of September. It may be that more tactical ad executions, which build on the Mog story, will emerge in the coming weeks in a specific effort to boost footfall and increase customer spend.
Still, the campaign is likely to raise significant sums for Save the Children, which has partnered with Sainsbury’s in aid of child literacy in the U.K. Sales of the book version of Mog’s Christmas Calamity will be available exclusively in Sainsbury’s stores along with a Mog soft toy. Profits from the sales of both will go to the charity.