From the invention of the Christmas tree to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Christmas as we know it today has its origins in Victorian Britain. It’s unsurprising then that the era has long been a source of inspiration for brands come Christmas ad season.
While this approach typically runs the risk of seeming overly sentimental, Sainsbury’s decision to go full Dickensian in its new Christmas campaign is probably fair enough given that it is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.
Following its brilliantly crafted ad directed by Noah Harris to mark the occasion earlier this year, the supermarket’s festive spot is a nod to the era which the modern day Father Christmas emerged from.
Created by Wieden + Kennedy London and directed by Ninian Doff, the film opens on Christmas Eve 1869 in Dickensian London (although in reality was filmed on a ready-made Victorian era set at a film studio in Romania).
The first ever Sainsbury’s store and its two founders, John James and Mary Ann Sainsbury, become the focal point of the tale when a young orphan boy called Nicholas is falsely accused of stealing a clementine from the store.
After being banished from the city and roaming around in the snowy wilderness for a bit, things aren’t looking too good for Nicholas. That is, until Mary Ann comes to the rescue and saves his life – also saving Christmas in the process.
“It just felt like an absolute no brainer that it was the only year we could make something like this,” says Sainsbury’s Head of Broadcast Marketing, Laura Boothby.
Alongside real-life Dickensian London, Boothby cites pantomine villains and even superhero stories as the film’s key influences. “One of the things we also likened it to when we were making it was, how can we tell the origin story of Father Christmas like it was Batman and [make him] a bit of a superhero?” she adds.
While it’s not completely free from schmaltz, the spot is undoubtedly an improvement on last year’s Nativity play-inspired ad, which unfortunately got more attention for following on from a remarkably similar campaign from John Lewis.
Instead, it harks back to some of the supermarket’s more cinematic festive efforts, such as its three-minute-long, painstakingly crafted animation from 2016, or its poignant retelling of the First World War Christmas Day truce in 1914, when opposing British and German soldiers emerged from their trenches to exchange gifts and play football.
Above all, after an unrelenting year of Brexit misery, Boothby hopes the ad will provide a much-needed dose of festive joy. “Hopefully the mood of the nation means people do just want a bit of cheering up, and this does help with it, but it’s absolutely the objective every year in terms of what we do,” she adds.
Agency: W+K London
Creative Directors: Dan Norris, Ray Shaughnessy
Creatives: Tom Bender, Tom Corcoran, Tomas Coleman and Mat Kramer
Executive Creative Directors: Tony Davidson, Iain Tait
Design Director: Karen Jane
Lead Designer: Phil Rosieur
Designer: Jon Barnett
Motion Graphics: Jon Harris
Production Company: Pulse Films
Director: Ninian Doff
Director of Photography: John Mathieson
Production Designer: Jon Henson
Costume Designer: Selina Wong
VFX Company: Time Based Arts