Why Sainsbury's brave 'long idea' won the hearts of the nation at Christmas

Nils Leonard, executive creative director at Grey London, reviews Sainsbury's much talked-about "Christmas in a Day" campaign.

When Christmas comes around, it seems we all forget how far our industry has come.

In the battle fought with long-form ads designed to make the nation weep, we lose all sight of our recent advances – the innovations and different shapes of work we might use to stand out in a era that is cluttered with marketing. We revert to type, hiding away in offices crafting precious, expensive attempts to emulate whatever won an award the year before.

There were a few takes on Christmas in 2013: the Watership Down approach (I prefer Danny Dyer’s take on this); the Tesco approach, casting actors to bring us a slice of life; and the Sainsbury’s campaign, which brought us a slice of life for real.

The Sainsbury’s work wasn’t your classic big idea – it was a long idea.

After seeing one of the executions, you would have been forgiven for thinking that it was lazy advertising, a crowdsourced home movie of a schmaltzy Christmas moment, but it didn’t stop with one execution.

After seeing four or so of these moments, the gathered effect started to work – the idea being that these moments teased and built to a screening of Christmas in a Day, a longer-format experience where all of these moments came together.

Yes, the campaign borrowed from the incredible Life in a Day, but it did so to sell us the most important day: 25 December. And it was the creators of the original film, Ridley Scott and Kevin Macdonald, who again brought their talents to bear on this work. So, arguably, it contin­ued a story, rather than borrowing from an old one.

This work (as a long idea should) built and grew over time. It chewed a low-res sausage roll in the face of the usual, high-production-value (frankly, boring), long-form efforts of other retailers at Christmas – and it won.

It will have taken bravery to make this work, so applaud the client for jumping in feet first, and the agency that resisted the temptation to spend oodles of cash on another grand film.

Long. Not big.

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