If ever a company needed a boost, it’s Tesco.
So all eyes will be on tonight’s debut screening of its Christmas advert, to be shown during the finale of Downton Abbey on ITV. Can a seasonal advert stop the rot and arrest falling sales after one of the toughest years in the beleaguered supermarket’s history?
The advert marks the end of a weekend of television packed with Christmas spots from major retailers, including John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Argos and Asda. Sainsbury’s and Morrisons are also revving up to launch their Christmas campaigns this week as the countdown to the most important retail season of the year begins in earnest.
Discounters Aldi and Lidl, which are both gunning to steal even more middle-class shoppers from the major chains over the festive season, have already launched glossy TV adverts showcasing their most luxurious foods.
The annual battle to win the hearts and wallets of Christmas shoppers will see UK companies spend more than £1.5bn on advertising campaigns. The biggest winner will be TV, which will book well over £700m in ad space for big-budget campaigns throughout November and December, as companies target the millions of viewers drawn to hit shows such as The X Factor.
Last year Tesco was the biggest spending supermarket splashing out £25m, followed by Asda, Morrisons, upstart Aldi and Sainsbury’s, according to unoffical figures from data research firm Nielsen. But Tesco’s spending didn’t prevent the UK’s biggest supermarket from having to issue a profit warning a few weeks later after sales had fallen over what its then chief executive, Phil Clarke, called a “disappointing” Christmas.
Nielsen is predicting that retailers will spend slightly less on advertising in the final quarter of this year, down 2% on 2013 to £359m, partly as a result of a switch to PR-based social media activity. But industry insiders say the biggest battle will be among the supermarkets.
“The supermarket chains are spending a lot – they always do – but be prepared to see a supermarket ad in every break in peak time between now and Christmas,” said Phil Hall, joint head of investment at MediaCom, which represents clients including Coca-Cola and Iceland.
Tesco, which is struggling to win back shoppers amid a grocery market price war and a major blow to its credibility from an accounting scandal, has pinned its hopes on an advert which shows scenes of staff helping shoppers prepare for the big day, building to the unlikely climax of a festive light extravaganza in Wigan. The light show, extending across 78 metres of screens erected in front of the town’s Tesco store, was put on last month in front of 800 local residents with the help of the lighting designers for the 2012 Olympics.
Reflecting this year’s trend for social media-linked campaigns, the event was a response to a tweet last year by Wigan shopper Claire Hannah, who had expressed disappointment about her local Tesco’s lacklustre festive decorations.
Ray Shaughnessy, creative director at Wieden + Kennedy, the ad agency behind the campaign, said: “This year’s campaign is an important step change for Tesco. They are doing all sorts of unexpected things to help people have a brilliant Christmas. It won’t just be about them making sure you get the best turkey on the table; it will be about making sure that people feel Christmassy too.”
The idea resembles Marks & Spencer’s #followthefairies campaign, which began last week with small unbranded events such as creating real snow outside a primary school in Cornwall, handing gifts to night-shift workers and creating fairies made of lights above Newcastle’s Tyne Bridge.
Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, M&S’s executive director of marketing and international, is lavishing at least a quarter of his campaign budget on social media; he predicts the “biggest online Christmas ever in the UK and the most social Christmas”, fuelled by shoppers increasing preference for using mobile phones and tablet computers to plan and buy their gifts.
John Lewis, however, already appears to be winning the online battle; it more than 6.5m hits in two days on the YouTube video of its advert featuring a young boy and a CGI penguin. That is already nearly half the views achieved over the whole Christmas season last year for The Bear & The Hare, its Disney-style animation.
Both M&S and John Lewis say they are spending about the same as last year on their campaigns – John Lewis’s totals £7m – but changing the way they are spending the money, with more emphasis on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010