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

The supermarkets spend millions on large-scale ad campaigns each year (and never more so than at Christmas time).

So, what have been the best campaigns, and why? Here are ten particularly memorable examples. 

#LidlSuprises

Lidl is now the seventh largest supermarket in the UK, but it wasn’t always a hit with shoppers. In 2014, many consumers assumed that its low prices were a sign of poor quality products. 

To change this, the retailer created the ‘Lidl Surprises’ campaign, which saw unsuspecting members of the public taste-testing its food. The reactions were undeniably positive, leading to surprise and delight when it was revealed to them that the products in question came from the budget supermarket.  

The campaign cleverly combined experiential marketing – using the real-time reactions of the public - with social elements to encourage shoppers to share their own #lidlsurprises. As a result, it helped to turn around negative brand perceptions, ultimately contributing to the brand’s boost in sales and growth in market share.

'I don’t like tea, I like gin' by Aldi

Aldi generated wide-spread affection from the public in 2011 with its simple but highly effective price comparison campaign. The first ad, featuring 83-year old Jean Jones declaring her love for gin went on to become the most-liked of the year.

Unlike typical supermarket advertising, which often centres around emotive elements or high-profile celebrities, Aldi went for a simpler approach. The short ads involved customers comparing groceries (which are similar in taste) and pointing out Aldi’s cheaper prices. 

Alongside this, the humorous aspect – with Jean saying “I don’t like tea, I like gin” – captured the attention of viewers, as well as positive conversation on social media. 

It wasn’t without its faults – Aldi was actually punished by the ASA for misleading viewers about prices – but the advert’s tone was certainly a hit with viewers at the time. 

Sainsbury’s & Mog’s 'Christmas Calamity'

With a below-average budget and later start than its competitors, Sainsbury’s’ needed something big for its 2015 Christmas campaign. Luckily, it pulled out a corker with Mog’s Christmas Calamity – a three-and-a-half-minute film featuring the famous cat from Judith Kerr’s book series.

Based around its seasonal tagline of ‘Christmas is for sharing’, the ad effectively used storytelling to tug on viewer’s heartstrings and promote the brand’s family-friendly image. Alongside the ad, Sainsbury’s also released a new Mog book and cuddly toy, with all profits going to Save the Children.

The campaign was certainly one of the best that festive season – a fact reflected by a 2.6% year-on-year rise in sales for the retailer in the week before Christmas Day. What’s more, it also helped the retailer raise over £1.6m to help children’s literacy.

Tesco’s original ‘Every Little Helps’ 

Tesco has often featured actors as fictional characters in its adverts. It has used Cold Feet star Fay Ripley, and more recently, Ruth Jones and Ben Miller – also known for their comedy acting work.

One of the supermarket’s most famous series of ads was broadcast back in the 90’s, starring Prunella Scales as ‘Dotty’ and Jane Horrocks as her long-suffering daughter. Serving as a personification of the retailer’s ‘every little helps’ tagline, the ads saw the famously demanding Dotty putting Tesco’s customer service to the test.

While the supermarket’s character-driven strategy has come in for criticism – arguably going down a ‘middle of the road’ option with a lack of innovation or focus – the original ad still serves as a good example of celebrity advertising.

By using a much-loved TV personality (and striking the right gentle comedic tone) the brand managed to insert itself into the public’s consciousness. Consequently, the ads reportedly contributed to £2.2bn in sales for Tesco in the late 90’s.

Iceland and 'The Power of Frozen'

Speaking of celebrity ads, Iceland is one brand that has become synonymous with the genre, previously enlisting people like Kerry Katona and Peter Andre to front ad campaigns. The association hasn’t always been a positive one, however, leading the retailer to change tack in order to create a new brand image.

The result was ‘The Power of Frozen’, which used the family kitchen as a setting rather than the supermarket to better highlight the value and convenience of frozen food. 

Alongside this, Iceland forged a valuable partnership with YouTube channel ‘Channel Mum’ to help change perceptions about the brand on social. Teaming up with a number of popular vloggers, it was able to reach its target audience with valuable content relating to cooking and mealtime ideas.

According to reports, approval ratings for Iceland amongst mums increased from 10% to 80% after viewing the videos created by vloggers.

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.

'Morrison’s makes it'

Up against larger supermarkets like Tesco and Sainsbury’s, Morrisons has strived to differentiate itself by taking a more local approach, describing its employees as both ‘foodmakers’ and ‘shopkeepers’. 

Its ‘Morrison’s makes it’ campaign is centred around the notion that it makes more food in-store than any other, promising customers both quality and value with its own-brand premium and healthy food ranges. The accompanying ad reflects this notion, depicting the supermarket in the context of everyday family life – and how it often centres around the dinner table.

While its not the most imaginative campaign in this list, it’s certainly one of the most personal, striving to the show the supermarket in a less corporate light than we’re perhaps used to. 

Asda’s halloween 2017

Most supermarkets focus on Christmas, but Asda put a surprising amount of effort into Halloween this year, positioning itself as the place to go for scary decorations and spooky-themed food. Its 2017 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.

Sainsbury’s 'Christmas in a day'

Yet another Christmas-themed ad, and another one from those emotional terrorists Sainsbury’s. 

‘Christmas in a Day’ was a documentary-style advert from Oscar-winning director Kevin McDonald, created from 360 hours’ worth of footage of British families celebrating Christmas. Naturally, it depicted scenes ranging from the heart-warming to the ridiculous, including kids waiting for Santa and dads struggling to put up the tree. 

The beauty of the advert, and the reason it resonated so deeply, was that it was not staged or overly planned. Each clip presented a real and authentic picture of how Brits truly celebrate Christmas - not the often airbrushed and overly-sentimentalised version presented to us by brands.

'Not just any food…' by Marks & Spencer

M&S is not a traditional supermarket, having first made its name selling fashion. However, it’s been focusing more on its standalone Simply Food stores in recent years, with the consumer appetite for M&S food being whetted by its now-iconic adverts.

It was in 2004 that M&S released the first ad, using the tagline - “not just any chocolate pudding, this is a Marks & Spencer chocolate pudding” - alongside a decidedly sultry narration and glorious slow-motion footage. It soon caught the public's imagination, becoming ripe for parody and ultimately one of the most recognisable ads of the noughties.

So why did it resonate quite so much? By focusing on the food – and the sheer indulgence of its products – M&S foretold the ‘food porn’ trend, which was soon to further explode on social media channels such as Instagram. Since, the brand has revived the iconic ads to remind the nation of its appreciation for food glorious food, with just a slightly more modern twist.

Related reading:

Nikki Gilliland

Published 11 December, 2017 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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