The UK’s biggest supermarkets are constantly vying for consumer attention.

Millions are spent on large-scale ad campaigns each and every year (and never more so than at Christmas time).

So, what have been the best campaigns, and why? Here are ten particularly memorable examples, including a new entry from this year’s round of festive ads.

Iceland’s ‘Rang-tan’

In 2018, Iceland’s ‘Rang-tan’ advert was banned from television. This was due to the film having been originally created by Greenpeace, meaning that the approval body Clearcast was forced to deem it as “an advertisement inserted by or on behalf of a body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature”. The campaign was part of Iceland’s pledge to remove palm oil from its products.

Despite being banned, the ad went on to generate tens of millions of views across social media, and was named by Kantar Millward Brown as the ‘most powerful ad’ of Christmas 2018.

It’s not surprising that the ad touched a nerve with the public. Narrated by Emma Thompson, it tells the story of Rang-tan: an endangered orangutan suffering from the environmental impact of palm oil.

While Iceland’s advert didn’t reach TV, the campaign certainly generated awareness, eventually leading Greenpeace to release a related children’s book with the aim of further educating younger generations.

Tesco’s ‘Prices That Take You Back’

Nostalgia is a strong driver of emotion, which can in turn help to make marketing more effective. For its 2019 campaign to celebrate 100 years of business, Tesco heavily drew on nostalgic elements, referencing key moments (and cult figures) of past decades.

The campaign, called ‘Prices That Take You Back’, includes recognisable characters such as Mr. Motivator, Morph, and Mr. Blobby. It also promoted Tesco ‘rolling back the prices’ of a number of branded products like Heinz and PG Tips.

The campaign contributed to a surge in sales, with shoppers reportedly buying 147,000 tins of beans in an hour, 19.8 million grams of Cathedral City Cheese, and three weeks’ worth of fish fingers in a day. Strategic timing also helped: the campaign was launched in the first few weeks of January, when shoppers typically tighten their belts post-Christmas.

Waitrose & Partners ‘Too Good to Wait’

Waitrose & Partners took an unexpectedly comedic approach to Christmas in 2018, with a campaign that highlights how passionate people feel about festive food and drink.

Each 30-second ad sees friends or family members rushing through various Christmas traditions – such as carol singing or kissing under the mistletoe – all so they can get stuck into their mince pies or roast turkey much quicker.

A particularly clever aspect of the campaign was its initial ITV launch, which involved the channel speeding up a number of other adverts in order to get to Waitrose. ‘Too Good to Wait’ also saw a refreshing hint of humour from the supermarket, which has focused solely on wholesome or overly sentimental elements in previous years.

Morrisons & ‘What We Make, Makes Us Who We Are’

It’s not often that supermarket ads are set outside of supermarket aisles themselves.  However, Morrisons chose to showcase a different side to its brand in 2018 with its ‘What We Make, Makes Us Who We Are’ campaign.

Focusing on its locally-sourced produce, Morrisons showcases its relationship with the farmers and shopkeepers that supply it.

This strategy has certainly paid off for the supermarket chain. Morrisons recently announced a third consecutive year of strong sales and profit growth, which it has partly put down to its championing of British supply chains.

Lidl’s ‘Big On Quality’

Lidl has worked hard over the years to convince shoppers that its low-price products are also top quality. Its #LidlSuprises campaign famously involved blind taste-testing the public to prove that it can compete with higher-end rivals.

In 2019, Lidl has underlined its commitment to fine produce with the launch of its ‘Big on Quality’ campaign. The concept is based on the fact that consumers know the supermarket is always ‘Lidl on price’, but they might be unaware that it is ‘big on quality’ as well as other notable elements such as ‘big name brands’, ‘family favourites’, and even ‘sustainable fishing’.

The campaign, which has a modern and fresh feel to it, is the first Lidl campaign from creative agency Karmarama. The ad draws heavily on British culture, too, highlighting the relatable importance of fry-ups, nights out, and TV dinners.

As well as TV spots, the campaign also included multi-channel support, including radio, social, cinema and outdoor points of interest.

Tesco’s ‘Food Love Stories’

Tesco has typically focused on offering good value to customers. However, this has resulted in the supermarket not always being associated with high quality food. Tesco aimed to challenge this misconception back in 2017 with ‘Food Love Stories’ – a campaign that has gone on to become the supermarket’s most successful ever.

According to reports, ‘Food Love Stories’ contributed to £679m in revenue within just eight months, and was the recipient of the Media Grand Prix at Cannes Lions festival in 2018.

Honing in on the emotional role that food plays in all our lives, the campaign involved a number of ad spots, each focusing on an individual (and the people who enjoy their food). For example, ‘David’s Hot or Not Chicken Curry’ and ‘Lisa’s Big Greek Stew’.

Food Love Stories made a refreshing change of pace for Tesco, especially after its humour-driven ad series fronted by Ruth Jones. By putting customers at the heart of its ads, it managed to create an emotive and heart-warming campaign, and one that effectively re-positioned Tesco as a supermarket that offers quality food (as well as good prices).

Kevin the Carrot at Christmas, by Aldi

Kevin the Carrot has become a much-loved character in Aldi’s campaigns, a fact cemented by his fourth appearance in the supermarket’s 2019 Christmas ad.

It’s not just Kevin that makes it notable, of course. In a nod to Peaky Blinders, the entertaining ad sees a gang of ‘Leafy Blinders’ attempt to take down Kevin’s ‘Christmas Spectacular’ show. The Sprouts do not succeed, however, leaving Kevin to sing along to ‘Let Me Entertain You’ in style.

Amongst big guns like John Lewis, Sainsbury’s, and Asda – which have also released their own festive campaigns – Aldi seems to have been one of the best-received of the year so far. This has also been helped by the supermarket’s cheeky reaction to John Lewis’ ad on Twitter.

“This is not just food. This is M&S food” revival

Marks & Spencer’s original ‘Not Just Any’ campaign produced one of the most recognisable straplines in UK ad history. In early 2019, M&S decided to revive it, partly in the hope of boosting dwindling food sales, which declined 2.1% during the Christmas period of 2018.

The revived campaign doesn’t stray too far from its roots, paying homage to the original ads with the same strapline and a similar concept. However, instead of solely focusing on the food itself, the ad centres around the people daydreaming about it. “Not just food” of course, but “M&S food”.

This strategy is part of M&S’ aim to target lower income consumers, as well as change the perception that is only a premium supermarket. Positioning itself as a brand for mid-week dinners as well as party food, M&S is hoping the campaign will see similar results as the original one.

Waitrose is live from the farm

While price and quality are typical consumer concerns, provenance has also become a focus in recent years, with a greater public interest in how grocery products are produced.

Waitrose aimed to provide reassurance to customers in 2016 by highlighting its own sourcing policy, using footage from the farms that supply its supermarkets. The ads (which were broadcast soon after being filmed) showed cows freely grazing and free-range hens pecking food.

Alongside TV spots, the campaign also included an out-of-home element, with live footage being streamed to commuters in train and bus stations. It was a successful strategy, effectively positioning Waitrose as an ethical retailer and one that cares about both its customers and the welfare of animals.

Asda’s Halloween 2017

Most supermarkets focus on Christmas, but Asda put a surprising amount of effort into Halloween in 2017, positioning itself as the place to go for scary decorations and spooky-themed food. Its ad was set inside a Halloween party, with celebrations kicking off to the song ‘Word Up’ by Cameo.

The ad also involved a collaboration with music app Shazam, allowing viewers to scan the ad which then took them to a Halloween mobile site.

While the use of AR was innovative (with users able to superimpose a singing mouth over their own face) – the creativity in design and infectious nature of the ad is what resonated the most. Again, with most supermarket advertising taking on sentimental or overly emotive themes – its light-hearted tone and music-video style felt like a breath of fresh air.