“Sainsbury’s Christmas ad is a dangerous and disrespectful masterpiece” – The Guardian

“This above all: to thine own self be true” – Polonius’ advice to Laertes in Hamlet. Unless what you say is true to what you are, you’re onto a loser.

Over 50-odd years in this business I have noticed two recurrent maladies.

That’s not true: I’ve noticed a great many more. But after seeing the new Christmas TV ads from John Lewis and Sainsbury’s these occur to me.

  1. Copying other people’s advertising
  2. Talking about what you’d like to be – but are not.

For years John Lewis have run fine advertising – especially at Christmas. So brilliant that the lady who puts up with me said today “John Lewis owns Christmas”.

If you want to see what I mean, it’s here.

If you’re interested in what makes great marketing, don’t just watch the ad. Invest a couple of minutes seeing how Monty’s little story has been followed though in every possible way.

Relevant products. A display in their biggest store. An app. Mabel – Monty’s mate. A link to a children’s charity. These are professionals at work.

What about the Sainsbury’s ad? It’s here.

To me it absolutely seems like an attempt to do with John Lewis have done so well, so often.

But even despite a good choice of charity link, it fails.

The Guardian calls it a masterpiece. I disagree. This is bloody conflict sanitised. The Guardian also said: “In making the first world war beautiful to flog groceries the film-makers have disrespected the millions who suffered in the trenches.”

As one cinema viewer commented, “When the “Sainsbury’s” logo appeared at the end fifty-odd people let out a collective “for fuck’s sake!”

Apart from anything else, does anyone associate Sainsbury’s in particular with Christmas? Aren’t they just another store flogging stuff?

To do this sort of thing well you need relevance and a delicate touch, which John Lewis have managed to apply year after year but Sainsbury’s haven’t.

I know things that make John Lewis stand out. They don’t play piped music in their stores. Their staff are partners. They’re “never knowingly undersold”.

What are Sainsbury’s? They’re just the big store down the road that runs ghastly messages ending “Live better for less”. The ones who can’t train the people on the fish counter to clean fish – and never got back to me when I said so.

First, improve what you do. Then worry about how to communicate it. Not the other way round.


About the Author


In 2003, the Chartered Institute of Marketing named Drayton one of 50 living individuals who have shaped today’s marketing.

He has worked in 55 countries with many of the world’s greatest brands. These include American Express, Audi, Bentley, British Airways, Cisco, Columbia Business School, Deutsche Post, Ford, IBM, McKinsey, Mercedes, Microsoft, Nestle, Philips, Procter & Gamble, Toyota, Unilever, Visa and Volkswagen.

Drayton has helped sell everything from Airbus planes to Peppa Pig. His book, Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing, out in 17 languages, has been the UK’s best seller on the subject every year since 1982. He has also run his own businesses in the U.K., Portugal and Malaysia.

He was a main board member of the Ogilvy Group, a founding member of the Superbrands Organisation, one of the first eight Honorary Fellows of the Institute of Direct Marketing and one of the first three people named to the Hall of Fame of the Direct Marketing Association of India. He has also been given Lifetime Achievement Awards by the Caples Organisation in New York and Early To Rise in Florida.


  1. Ruth

    I personally never understood “never knowingly undersold”. Perhaps that makes me out of John Lewis’s demographic

    1. Drayton

      It is a rather posh way of saying nobody offers a lower price. There was a store in New York that – I think – put it better. “Nobody, but nobody undersells Gimbels”

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