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UK Grocers show why distinctiveness is just as important as emotion

December 2021

This is a self-funded case study using our Ad Testing solution.

With a Christmas that’s certainly felt a long time coming, Brits are ramping things up in anticipation of a big festive season. With this in mind, each major grocer aimed to capitalize on the mood of the nation, either by highlighting their role in the build-up to the big day, or celebrating the payoff of friends and family coming together again.

However, the way each execution was brought to life was vastly different, with contrasting narratives and emotional priorities. We were keen to see which approach was most effective and ultimately if any was able to reach the heights of Kevin at ALDI.

To find out which grocer delivered most effectively, we applied our three C’s framework:

  • Captivate: Does it stand out and grab attention?
  • Connect: Does it instantly recall the brand?
  • Compel: Does it motivate behavioral change?



Despite their contrasting styles, the festive theme of all four ads consistently struck a more passive ‘pleasant’ tone — but, as we often say, passive certainly doesn’t have to mean ineffective. However, it does require something a little extra to ensure engagement is maintained, which Tesco and Morrisons did successfully.

Tesco poked fun at post-lockdown realities with the help of an iconic Queen soundtrack; a combination which excited and amused viewers, and caused relatively little negativity despite the potentially risky territory of COVID references. Meanwhile, Morrisons’ focus on the “real people” behind the scenes who are responsible for getting food on the table at Christmas was extremely well liked, bringing the story of “Farmer Christmas” to life in a clever and magical way.

Asda and Sainsbury’s struggled to engage viewers as strongly, with their softer tone straying into a boring and dull territory — lacking a captivating story or character focus to keep people hooked. Sainsbury’s classic “big family Christmas” trope was the worst offender, with the novel camera work unable to compensate for a story which underwhelmed.

UK Grocers Ad Testing Christmas 2021 - Captivate



Another strength of Morrisons and Tesco was how well each brand was integrated into the story, with both featuring their staff, products, and branding staples in a memorable way throughout. While Morrisons’ green and freshly baked in-store setting ensured a strong fit with the brand, Tesco’s deliberately edgy and British tone of voice more effectively recalled the brand’s typical style of communication (including last year’s ‘No Naughty List’, which featured another iconic soundtrack – this time from Britney Spears).

While Sainsbury’s successfully leveraged their well-established orange color, this was where things ended. Christmas dinner ultimately isn’t an occasion a single brand can own, which meant the ad ended up doing more for the wider grocery category (and holiday season in general).

UK Grocers Ad Testing Christmas 2021 - Connect



Morrisons brought a human touch, highlighting the freshness of its products, along with the people who caringly produce the food which arrives on grocery shelves and eventually the Christmas table. Tesco also intrinsically linked to the functional benefits of the grocer by cleverly integrating their reliability, desirability, and delivery service into the short stories being told.

UK Grocers Ad Testing Christmas 2021 - Compel


What are the learnings for marketers?

Tesco’s determination to do everything to make Christmas happen, and Morrisons’ celebration of people like “Farmer Christmas” who work tirelessly behind the scenes, were effective because they cued a strong emotional response — but, importantly, did this within a construct that was unique and ownable for the brand.

Simply presenting the brand within a holiday narrative isn’t enough; there’s no shortage of advertisers aiming to capitalize on festive warmth at this time of year. This means it’s even more imperative at Christmas to do something unique to cut through the clutter.

A captivating, character-led story, humor, catchy soundtrack, human truth, etc., are all ingredients which we know drive effectiveness — however, they take on added importance at Christmas. This year’s top performers are a testament to this.

This isn’t to deter brands from finding ways to intertwine festive themes into their Christmas communications; rather, doing it in a distinct and ownable way. ALDI proved this by taking on a classic Charles Dickens-inspired Christmas tale, but leveraging a theme and cast of characters that could only be for one brand.

A Christmas ad which prioritizes the brand as much as the season will ensure that not only are the hearts of consumers warmed, but also the wallets of shareholders.

UK Grocers Ad Testing Christmas 2021 - Cubery Rating

Check out our full Christmas Ad Testing leaderboard.

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