Mixed messages from UK retailers about the power of Christmas ads

So do Christmas ads help sales?

There are mixed messages from the John Lewis Partnership which also owns upscale grocer Waitrose.

Sales at department store business John Lewis rose nearly 15 per cent in the five weeks to Christmas, about 13 per cent in same store terms, making it the clear Christmas winner in the UK. Much of this was due to booming online sales.

And some of it, no doubt, was the result of its much-lauded ‘Snowman’ ad from Adam & Eve/DDB. This also produced a number one single for theme song The Power of Love and a best-selling children’s book. So joy unconfined at JL.

But sales at Waitrose also rose sharply, in the 12 days before Christmas. They were up 8.8 per cent, 5.4 per cent from stores open at least a year (Waitrose has been investing heavily in new stores, in particular its ‘Little Waitrose’ convenience chain).

But Waitrose didn’t advertise at Christmas; well not really – agency BBH produced a rather odd film featuring presenters Delia Smith and Heston Blumenthal saying it wasn’t going to advertise, instead it was giving money to charity. Maybe it worked.

John Lewis has been advertising on TV twice a year for the last few years; one Christmas epic and a mid-year effort plugging its ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ position. So its advertising-induced success, if such it is, isn’t all down to the lovelorn snow folk.

Waitrose, since moving to BBH, hasn’t produced the expected spectacular. Maybe that will come this year.

The only supermarket to go for a really big bang at Christmas was Morrisons with a clever ad from DLKW/Lowe showing a harrassed housewife wrestling a turkey (among other Christmas vignettes). But Morrisons is thought to have had a poor Christmas in relative terms, although this is likely to have more to do with its attempt to move upmarket at a time when others in its sector like Asda and Tesco have been bombarding shoppers with price cuts.

Asda produced a decent enough ad through Saatchi & Saatchi while Tesco, through new agency Wieden+Kennedy, chose to go for a barrage of short films, each highlighting one aspect of its offer. Sainsbury’s, which is also reported by some analysts to have struggled at Christmas – although they always say this – also took the non-blockbuster approach. But then it no longer enjoys the services of ubiquitous uber-cook Jamie Oliver.

The big one is Tesco, which has struggled over the past two years although it still accounts for about 30 per cent of supermarket sales in the UK. Noises emerging from its Cheshunt HQ (finally given a much-needed lick of paint by new CEO Phil Clarke) suggest that it’s happy (happier?) with its Christmas performance and the performance of its new agency.

But we wait to see the numbers.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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