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The UK’s major grocers have been a bit of a mixed bag this year — reaching the highest of highs (ALDI’s Kevin the Carrot), while others fell flat (Asda and Sainsbury’s). It’s a reminder that while standing out and eliciting an emotional response is key to advertising success, just as important is ensuring memories are framed in a way that’s distinctly ownable by the brand.
Two grocers that did a good job of striking the right balance were Waitrose and M&S Food, albeit they took different paths to success.
Waitrose broke away from John Lewis after two years of joint-Christmas campaigns, marking the separation with an entirely new creative strategy — departing from the emotive storytelling approach John Lewis has pioneered over the years. M&S Food also went down a new festive route, bringing to life its iconic ‘Percy Pig’ for the first time ever.
The 3 C’s are the building blocks of effectiveness; we used this framework to analyze the performance of each ad:
Waitrose was the more emotionally engaging spot, following witty actress Ashely Jensen who seeks to remind viewers at every available opportunity that food is actually the “best part of Christmas”. This greatly amused viewers.
The tone of M&S’s ‘Percy Pig’ was much softer in comparison — unsurprising given we know animals, particularly animated ones, are particularly effective at evoking warmth. Voiced by Spiderman himself, Tom Holland, Percy magically appears from underneath the Christmas tree before embarking on an adventure through an M&S store, marveling at the fresh food wonders introduced to him by his fairy friend (voiced by Dawn French). Though not as attention grabbing as Waitrose, the ad was still fun and enjoyable.
Where the tables were turned was in the strength of brand connection. With Percy’s starring role, along with continual framing around the food available at M&S, advertising memories were uniquely attributed back to M&S. Although it was the first ever life-like appearance of Percy, the character has long been associated with the brand — originating in 1992 in confectionary form, and now being recognized globally.
The warmth people felt toward him, and his seamless link back to M&S, highlights the potential he offers as a branding device — and makes us wonder why he hasn’t been utilized sooner. You only need to look to ALDI’s Kevin the Carrot to see the potential cultural superstardom of animated characters.
While connection back to the brand wasn’t as strong for Waitrose, making food the star of the show — together with the posh, up-market settings — meant cues for Waitrose were strong. The fun and irreverent tone was also seen as a good fit for the brand.
One thing which was consistent across both ads — despite their star-studded casts (even Heston Blumenthal made an appearance for Waitrose!) — was that they made food the centerpiece. With Percy pausing regularly to admire the appetizing food on display, viewers were left with a clear impression of the wide variety of options available at M&S this Christmas.
Equally, the well-to-do settings ensured viewers were very clear that Waitrose stocks a range of gourmet foods for those looking to impress guests on Christmas day. More broadly, the fun and light-hearted approach adopted by both brands led to a good level of warmth being built.
Delivering highly on all 3 C’s — while an admirable pursuit — isn’t a realistic goal for advertisers to set for every campaign. However, striking a balance which ensures delivery on each area to a satisfactory level is what primes brands for long-term success.
As we spoke about in our review of four major mainstream supermarket players, with more-and-more brands relying on well-worn Christmas tropes and sentimentality, the ones who tapped into unique emotions and distinctive creative themes had the greatest success. Included in this were Waitrose and M&S, leveraging elements that we know work (storytelling and characters) while ensuring memories were framed in a distinct and ownable way.
Looking to follow in the footsteps of a now national icon, Kevin the Carrot, Percy Pig shows all the hallmarks of a device which can have the same transformational impact. Like we’ve seen with Kevin, deployed in an episodic way results in not only ease of identification growing over time, but also emotional resonance. Could we see Percy knock Kevin off his perch in 2022?