Sainsbury's Perfect Christmas

  • Sainsbury’s needed a fresh approach to TV planning with emphasis on integration.
  • Through careful planning and tweaking the schedules the brand used TV much more effectively.
  • The Christmas campaign delivered an 8% YOY increase in sales generated through TV.


In the current climate, where competitors continue to spend at higher levels, and cut through has become difficult to achieve, Sainsbury’s were brave enough to take a fresh look at how their TV should be planned and bought. It would be necessary to use 2010 as a test-and-learn year ensuring that, by the end of the year, they would have found the perfect planning alchemy to apply to their Christmas campaign – the most critical time of year for all supermarkets.

TV has always played a dominant role in the Sainsbury’s media mix, and over the last three years it has accounted for around 60% of the media budget. Activity has generally been split into two different elements - Brand TV and Promotional TV. With these two separate elements, traditionally the marketing team and the agencies had fallen into a way of working where maximising brand TV meant creating a new piece of brand copy every 3-4 weeks, putting between 400 and 500 TVRs behind it then archiving it. With the promotional TV campaign, there would be on average three on air at any given time. By March 2010, it was becoming clear that some of the more recent brand ads were starting to show a decline in recall on the tracker versus previous brand ads.

The challenge for Sainsbury’s was to apply a new methodology to TV planning whilst maintaining the same budget as the year before. It would be necessary for Sainsbury’s to use the three campaigns they had on air before Christmas to optimise the schedule to find out what would work best for them. The team knew that there had to be a focus on integration – rather than running brand TV and promotional TV, there should be links between the advertising.

The test-and-learn strategy was implemented early in 2010. There were two main elements that needed to be tested; firstly the weighting and phasing behind the campaigns as the tracker was highlighting that Sainsbury’s was not maximising the effective frequency on each brand TV message and that recall was suffering as a result. As there would be a shift to fewer campaigns across the year, what would be the effective frequency for each campaign and for how long could they sustain a sales effective period?

Secondly, it was also necessary to explore the depth of integration between the different elements of the TV advertising. In the Christmas 2009 campaign, the first set of ‘hybrid’ ads were created, linking the brand and promotional ads with a call to action. How could this be further utilised in 2010?

The Solution

Fortunately, the challenge had been laid out for Sainsbury’s with a series of goals that they wanted to achieve in 2010; namely to test the new approach to TV planning and apply the learnings to the Christmas 2010 campaign and make sure it would be the most effective one yet. In May 2010, the first opportunity came to alter the campaign weights. This was the Taste creative and it was a relatively complex message so a high effective frequency (between 4 and 5) was required. The campaign launched with a heavyweight 450 TVR burst but then the ‘tail’ was pulsed to extend the sales effective period with 50 TVR week on week off. From the results of the campaign, Sainsbury’s found that the week on week off pulsing strategy proved effective so they knew that this could be utilised for other campaigns. The Taste of Summer campaign became the place they applied their learnings and it was the second campaign of 2010. Sainsbury’s knew that they must launch at the maximum possible weight and then pulse at cost effective weights using a combination of 40” and 10” creatives. This approach paid off with the strongest ROI on TV since 2005.

Sainsbury’s and PHD also knew that they had to meet the second part of the challenge, that of integration. If they could creatively link the promotional messages to the brand messages, they could ease their reliance on the longer second length brand ads to generate consideration and brand measures. By focusing on shorter second lengths, they could also create more cost efficient returns as the airtime would be cheaper. The Taste campaign in May was ‘supercharged’ with 10” promotional executions that linked to the brand creative and messaging. This approach proved effective and Sainsbury’s took this one stage further with the Taste of Summer executions by linking the promotional executions using creative featuring children enjoying the products on offer linking creatively to the brand ad.

So on to the Christmas campaign to which Sainsbury’s and PHD could apply their 2010 learnings. The theme was Perfect Christmas and all the elements of the campaign were creatively linked. In addition they also secured the UKTV Christmas programming sponsorship package which ran for six weeks across the campaign period and would allow them some stand out at a time of busy retail TV activity. The sponsorship package consisted of fifteen different 10” idents some featuring food and some non-food products and equated to over 1200 additional TVRs. The 60” launch spot was used to build frequency quickly and ran for two weeks, and there was a 40” cut-down which over-lapped. The other branding adverts were 20” spots that served to drive short term sales spikes across the period and linked creatively with the 10” promotional ads. Sainsbury’s and PHD created more integrated campaigns than any of their competitors, and the results were outstanding.


  • With the same budget as Christmas 2009 of c.£5.5m, the campaign delivered an 8% YOY increase in Christmas sales generated through TV
  • The Brand TV ROI increased by 34% YOY
  • Sainsbury’s experienced their strongest set of Christmas results ever, seeing the supermarket leapfrog Asda in overall market share
  • The effective altering of the spot laydown would feed into 2011 TV campaigns ensuring a new set of planning laydowns.


2010 was a year where we were determined to test and learn within our advertising activity. TV has played a huge role in the continued growth of Sainsbury’s, but it was time to deconstruct the successful model and start to test ways of creating more effectiveness, not just increased efficiency. We believed in the power of TV and wanted to maintain its position at the heart of our strategy, but we also wanted to find ways to help it lead the effectiveness of the whole communications mix. As a team we will be building on this further in 2011, and will continue to challenge PHD to help us evolve the TV strategy

Tom Hampson National Advertising Director, Sainsbury’s


Sector: Retail

Brand: Sainsbury’s

Campaign objectives: To build on a successful 2009 and amend the TV plans to increase the effectiveness of TV

Target Audience: Main shopper.  HW + CH

Budget: Over £5m

Campaign Dates: Three campaigns ran in 2010 - one in April/May, one in June and one in November/December 2010

TV Usage: 60”, 50”, 40”, 30”, 20”and 10”spots plus 10” idents

Creative Agency: AMV BBDO

Media Agency:  PHD

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