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There’s snow place like Sports Direct for Christmas

December 2021

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

Over recent years we’ve seen a number of brands effectively leverage big name celebrities to achieve commercial success (including Elton John for Uber Eats, Snoop Dogg for Just Eat, and Robert De Niro for Warburtons). Add to this list Sports Direct and their 2021 Christmas spot featuring a star-studded cast of English footballers (including Jack Grealish, Jordan Pickford, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and Declan Rice), Britain’s no.1 tennis player Emma Raducanu, and even famous rapper/comedian Big Narstie.

The brand’s new spot takes a similar approach to their 2020 Christmas campaign — fast-paced cuts between different sports, celebrity cameos (Jordan Henderson in 2020), and a touch of festive humor. How did the ad fare amongst the likes of ALDI’s ‘Kevin the Carrot’ and John Lewis? We tested it using our 3 C’s framework:

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


While the idea of a snowball fight isn’t exactly original, the fast-paced, high-energy transitions set a very distinctive tone and ensured viewers remained glued to their screens. Unsurprisingly, the multitude of familiar faces was the main draw card, with around half of people calling out the sportspeople as an element they enjoyed.

While the plethora of famous faces could’ve easily overwhelmed viewers and come across as ‘gimmicky’, they were cohesively brought together for a joyful winter pastime — a snowball fight — ensuring their appearances had a purpose, rather than being viewed as an artificial add-on.

Sports Direct UK Christmas Ad Testing - Captivate



Another possible pitfall of a celebrity-heavy focus lies in their potential to overpower the narrative; advertising — in order to drive commercial effects — still needs to ensure the brand remains the real ‘star’. Sports Direct was able to avoid this trap by prominently highlighting a wide range of sports equipment, clothing, and footwear — synonymous with what the UK’s leading sports retailer is known for.

However, further solidifying this connection was the effective utilization of existing branding properties, with Sports Direct’s advertising having cultivated a unique personality over recent years. The high-octane pace and celebrity cameos are becoming increasingly identifiable for Sports Direct, while the ad also featured the brand’s red and blue colors throughout. Opening with ‘Sports Direct Presents’ helped frame the story while not detracting from people’s willingness to engage further.

Sports Direct UK Christmas Ad Testing - Connect



By avoiding the sentimental approach taken by a swathe of Christmas advertisers (many of which didn’t land with consumers), Sports Direct not only maintained consistency, but also carved out a unique position for itself. The message of ‘going all out’ successfully stood out amongst lots of others advocating for Christmas being a time for relaxing and quality family time.

‘Go All Out’ was refreshingly entertaining and humorous while still tying into the festive season, creating a sense of fun and excitement, and translating this favorability onto Sports Direct — predisposing people more strongly toward the retailer.

Sports Direct UK Christmas Advertising Testing - Compel


What are the learnings for marketers?

Sports Direct highlights how it’s possible to ‘go all out’ with an action-packed, celebrity-heavy production — lifting above the Christmas clutter — while at the same time ensuring the brand doesn’t get overshadowed.

However, with the campaign cost mooted to be £6m, it’s a reminder again that celebrities — particularly premiership footballers — don’t come cheap. Therefore, ensuring they’re most effectively utilized is key.

‘Go All Out’ is a testament to the first rule of successful celebrity partnerships; use them to drive the narrative, rather than the narrative being about the celebrity themselves. Featuring the celebrities as a contextually relevant part of the snowball fight (i.e., playing their relevant sports), along with a healthy dose of humor being interspersed throughout, proved to be a winning formula.

Sports Direct UK Christmas Advertising Testing - Cubery Rating

Check out our full Christmas Ad Testing leaderboard.

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