Sainsbury's Tells Smaller, 'Cosier' Stories in Its 2020 Holiday Ads

W+K bakes in nostalgia for supermarket chain

As the pandemic rages anew, this holiday season feels in some ways as distant from Christmas 2019 as it does from, say, Christmas 1869, when U.K. supermarket chain Sainsbury's launched its first store in London's Drury Lane.

Sainsbury's voyaged back to its Dickensian origins in a big-budget commercial last year. In its latest holiday campaign, however, the brand eschews fantastical time-tripping for the here and now. Developed with Wieden + Kennedy London, the new work bakes potent nostalgia into stories told through vérité-style footage and conversations among family members.

The first ad broke over the weekend. It features a phone call between a grown-up daughter and her dad, spotlighting, for better or worse, the latter's "Gravy Song," which celebrates his sauce for "mum's roasties":

"Hey, you … what's going down?
  (Dad, not the song.)
Gravy boat, gravy boat coming to town.
  (Dad, stop!)
It's not any old ship, just take a sip—
It's filled with scrummy and saucy bits.
  (How does mum put you with you?)"

Directed by Pulse's Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace, the slice-of-life approach, sans specific Covid-19 references but sporting a yearning/hopeful vibe to match the tenor of the times, closes with the line, "Food is home. Home is Christmas."

"Each year, we always take a different direction with our Christmas adverts, but were particularly mindful to reflect the challenges of this year," Sainsbury's head of broadcast marketing Emma Bisley tells Muse. "We hope the advert represents part of Christmas that most people will fondly remember, with food at the heart."

Sainsbury's strove to show "a range of families and their connection to food memories," with each film starring a different set of actors, Bisley says. A second installment, "Perfect Portions," dropped today and centers on a mother and son who reminisce about Dad's mad turkey carving skills:

The final ad, titled "The Big Sarnie," debuts later this week. It features cousins who bond over Boxing Days of yore (that's Dec. 26, a major holiday in the U.K.).

Directors Southern and Lovelace—jointly known as 32 and renowned for their music videos (Blur, Jack White, Franz Ferdinand)—craft intimate tales that play on our emotions and feel oh so real. Thanks to that style, "we could deliver on the warmth and joy in a much smaller, cosier space," Bisley says, rather than evoking the spectacle of past campaigns. "In this tricky year, we wanted to give the whole country a moment of escape—through the memories of home-cooked food, and the people connected to those memories. It had to feel genuine and detached from the world of traditional advertising, so 32 were the guys for the job."

Sainsbury's also invites customers to donate food, cash and essentials in its stores or online, with the chain pledging to double each contribution.

In recent days, brands of every stripe have begun delivering year-end campaigns, and it's a decidedly mixed bag. Amazon and Kohl's worked the Covid-19 reality into their storylines. John Lewis/Waitrose and Aldi kept epic feels from earlier years, emphasizing kindness and connection. Amazon Ring produced a throwback-type winter-wonderland with Carrie Underwood. And Jameson launched a cheery contest, offering big-ass electrified Christmas trees made from its whiskey bottles as prizes.

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