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As far as advertising rivalries go in Australia, they don’t come much bigger than Coles and Woolworths — as demonstrated by them launching sustainability campaigns in tandem earlier this year. While competition between the two giants perpetually takes place, it goes to another level at Christmas.
We’ve been testing both brand’s festive communications for six years now, and while there’s little which has separated the two over that time, Woolworths’ majestical storylines over the past couple of Christmases have given it the slight upper hand. This year, both brands opted to build upon recently-launched platforms — ‘Value the Australian Way’ for Coles, and ‘Today’s Fresh Food People’ for Woolies.
Which Aussie supermarket brought the most festive cheer in 2021? We found out by testing both ads using our 3 C’s framework.
While each campaign performed reasonably overall, they both took a backward step in their ability to captivate viewers — courtesy of taking safer and more conservative approaches this year (similarly to the discount retailers).
Woolworths opted to move away from the high-performing fantastical tales of previous years, instead maintaining consistency with the brand’s recently-launched Today’s Fresh Food People platform. While the focus on green-initiatives and rhyming evoked feelings of warmth, it didn’t feature the same narrative development of last year’s ‘Magic of Christmas’ (and prior campaigns), subsequently resulting in a less-intense emotional response.
Coles experienced a similar fate — while people enjoyed seeing family, friends, and co-workers re-connecting again, the soft tone and generic imagery ultimately struggled to grab and maintain attention.
We’ve seen many of this year’s discount retailers fall into the trap of leveraging the ‘happiness’ surrounding Christmas at the expense of prioritizing something which the brand can uniquely own. This, however, wasn’t an issue for either Coles or Woolworths, with both brands achieving a high level of brand synergy.
Building upon newly-launched campaign platforms ensured feelings of warmth and happiness were framed in a uniquely identifiable way, with Woolworths further bolstered by placing ‘green’ front-and-center, along with ‘freshness’ underpinnings and continued use of rhyming.
Though Coles’ depiction of family, friends, and food wasn’t exactly unique to the brand, it was at least consistent with the social theme people have typically come to expect. Including a (very) familiar face in Curtis Stone, and red delivery truck, also helped reinforce attribution.
Cutting through the Christmas clutter can be a difficult task, especially when a brand’s positioning already centers around family and community — sentiment which almost every brand attempts to capitalize on at this time of the year. Coles’ approach was better-able to build emotional appeal for the grocer, through its underlying theme of gratitude, subtle links to the brand’s charitable endeavors, and references to front-line workers.
Woolworths wasn’t as strong in this respect, with the more direct message of ‘reconnection’ forgoing some of the ‘magic’ of previous campaigns and subsequently generating less inspiration, amusement, and excitement. In-turn the ad did little to differentiate the grocer.
It comes as no surprise to see both Coles and Woolworths prioritizing family, community, and feelings of warmth in their post-lockdown Christmas campaigns — as cornerstones of Australian culture it’s important for them to tap into the prevalent psyche of the nation.
While this theme of unity felt synergistic with each respective brand, they potentially missed a trick by not borrowing more from the high-performing campaigns each retailer has released over the course of 2021. While successful at eliciting feelings of warmth in past campaigns, both brands have coupled this with storytelling which sparked high-arousal emotions such as excitement, humor, and inspiration.
Woolworths’ 2020 Christmas campaign was pleasant and warm, but importantly built a story around the magic of Christmas which generated a sense of intrigue, excitement, and happiness. More recently, Coles’ sustainability campaign highlighted the power of wrapping-up a simple message in a nostalgic and moving narrative. Prioritizing narrative and character development, and not just targeting an emotional response, will see both brands return to a position of strength in 2022.