As we’re fast approaching Yule time – cue the UK’s most enchanting Christmas ads – Poppy Shute, Senior Marketing Innovation Manager at Sainsbury's, reflects on securing the #1 spot on the YouTube Ads Leaderboard 2016.

Reaching #1 was a huge accomplishment 

Making it to the top spot of the YouTube’s 2016 Christmas Ad Leaderboard with our animated film ‘The Greatest Gift’ was a huge accomplishment for the team here at Sainsbury’s.

Over the last five years, our focus at Christmas has been to create advertising that people want to spend time with, that entertains them and resonates with them emotionally. So for us, topping the charts on YouTube with over 16 million views was a real testament to the work, proving we’d delivered against a (pretty punchy) ambition.

"Create advertising that people want to spend time with, that entertains them and resonates with them emotionally"

– Poppy Shute, Senior Marketing Innovation Manager, Sainsbury's

The competition was fierce

Against the backdrop of some incredibly strong competition, this was a particularly exciting win. Achieving cut through at Christmas has always been challenging in the grocery sector, but the playing field really has transformed over the past five years.

Since we created ‘Christmas in a Day’ with Kevin McDonald in 2013, Christmas advertising has steadily become the UK’s version of the Superbowl: a golden few weeks when audiences actively pay attention to adverts. Every year, more and more brands want a part of the action – in 2016 there were over 15 big budget adverts launched (versus just two in 2013), and over £5bn spent in the market.  

Therefore, the competition for customers’ attention has intensified, which makes our job more challenging! With media budgets stretched across the sector, the creative bar is significantly higher as we’re all jostling to create advertising that gets noticed.

"In 2016 there were over 15 big budget adverts launched, versus just two in 2013"

– Poppy Shute, Senior Marketing Innovation Manager, Sainsbury's

At Sainsbury’s, we’ve taken a fresh, new approach to entertaining our customers every year to give them something unexpected – from WW1 Truce, to Mog the Cat, and last yearThe Greatest Gift animation – and this has been hugely successful for us. But every year, the pressure grows.

Last year, we focussed on making our money go further in three key ways:

  1. A ruthless integration between our food and storytelling adverts to increase brand attribution across the board.
  2. Focussing on the deeper insight around the importance of spending time together at Christmas.
  3. Using this insight to inspire a multi-channel creative approach to bring the campaign to life right throughout the season until Christmas itself. Distinctive campaign assets were at the heart of this – our song (a collaboration with Brett McKenzie and James Corden), our stop-frame animation style, and our characters were all things that made us stand out.
"Rather than taking a traditional TV-first approach, we launched mobile-first, on YouTube"

– Poppy Shute, Senior Marketing Innovation Manager, Sainsbury's

YouTube played a central role in delivering incremental reach

Working closely with YouTube from launch really helped us embed ‘The Greatest Gift’ (and accompanying earworm song) into popular culture. Rather than taking a traditional TV-first approach, we launched mobile-first, on YouTube, bright and early on a Monday morning. This meant we caught the early morning phone checkers, the commute window, and became part of the Monday morning workplace conversations – so we already had a strong level reach before launching during the X-Factor. By the end of the day, we’d reached over 23 million customers.

With the song so central to the campaign, YouTube was the obvious platform to help amplify our reach after launch, too. As the UK’s favourite way to listen to music, it was not only a great place to promote the song, but also the natural destination for people to find it having heard the song on TV or radio; helping to encourage people to listen time and time again. We saw them do that in spades, with over 16 million views on YouTube by Christmas Day, and more cumulative minutes spent watching our ad than ever before. Working hand in hand with other channels, it helped drive success of the song to see almost 1 million streams on Spotify.

As the first few adverts launch, I’m waiting with baited breath to see what 2017 has to offer, and how the nation react in an ever changing Christmas advertising game.