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Sainsbury's: nice ad, shame it's generic

27 Feb 2017  |  Dominic Mills 

It's unlikely competing supermarkets will be losing any sleep over the latest Sainsbury's campaign, writes Dominic Mills

I know, you’re asking yourselves why is this man writing about the Sainsbury’s Food Dancing campaign now? After all, it’s been around since mid-January.

I could say that I wanted to give it time to settle down. It’s the first campaign by Wieden and Kennedy since it won the account from long-time (35 years, almost a record) incumbent AMV BBDO. Instant comment or judgement might be too hasty.

That would be only partly true. The other reason, and I ask for your indulgence here, is that I’m away and writing this column (and next week’s too) well ahead of publication. Something timeless is therefore required.

I first saw some in-store posters featuring staff. With their flashes of orange on a black-and-white background, they looked just like those for Trainspotting 2. Blimey, I thought, it’s as if Renton, Sick Boy and co had grown up and got jobs in their local Sainsbury’s.

The main campaign itself celebrates the idea of food dancing. Here’s the TV version. You can see why Sainsbury’s bought it, although it feels to me like the mood work from the pitch.

It’s fresh, it’s exciting, it’s a little bit different from what’s out there (and certainly very different from the end-of-the-era AMV work). The use of a black-and-white background with the flashes of colour feels very contemporary.

Of course, the idea of food dancing is new to me, and I don’t know anyone who does it, but the ad conveys pleasure, fun and energy. The participants are clearly enjoying themselves.

Mind you, not everyone likes it. Comments from (I assume) ad professionals on More About Advertising range from “Mum dancing” to “it’s just like Lurpak’’.

Others go further: one says it’s just like St Vitus’s Dance (aka Sydenham’s chorea, a condition in which the sufferer exhibits jerky, uncoordinated movement); another says the in-store staff say they hate it; and a third says “it’s contrived” with “exaggerated politically correct characters”.

Equally, go to the Sainsbury’s FAQ page and a lot of people are quite iffy about the ad.

And god, the British public can be so serious.

Several wonder if there’s a health-and-safety issue; another wants reassurance that no dogs were harmed in the filming; one criticises the apparent waste of food in the shot; and a staff member says he’d love to food dance, but he’s get disciplined if he did it at work. It’s negative in a niggling way.

Generally, there’s a more positive vibe about the ad on Twitter.

Me, I quite like the ad. But I do have one problem with it.

It’s generic. There’s nothing uniquely Sainsbury’s about it. You could stick a Tesco label on it, an Asda one, a Waitrose one, or even an M&S one. Yes, I concede that, as things currently stand, it doesn’t line up with the messages from Aldi and Lidl.

But the former four are Sainsbury’s biggest competitors and I can’t see the point of trying to grab a space that they could legitimately own also.

Indeed, you could say that the current Tesco campaign, which broke around the same time, takes a similar approach and is equally generic. Here’s Dave’s ‘hot or not’ chicken curry ad.

It’s different in execution - slow and measured, with a bit of food porn thrown in - but otherwise uses the same, pun intended, recipe:

- Take 1 ordinary person
- Put them in a kitchen
- Mix in with a dollop of ‘isn’t cooking fun’ sauce
- Add some spicy camera work
- Garnish with food porn
- Serve up in ‘we really care about food’ bowls
- Bung a load of recipes online.

I accept there can be a place for generic ads (but least likely in food) when the advertiser in question is the clear market leader and it gains disproportionately from.

But Sainsbury’s isn’t the market leader, and the hard work (and money) it is putting in to making cooking sexy and fun may well benefit its rivals. I imagine none of them will be losing any sleep as long as this campaign runs.

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