This Highly Anticipated Christmas Ad From Sainsbury’s Has a Great Message, But Bad Timing

U.K. retailer John Lewis launched a similar spot 2 months ago

A children's Christmas play gets bigger by the moment in Sainsbury's new holiday ad from Wieden + Kennedy London. Sainsbury's
Headshot of David Griner

If you’ve been working on a big-budget ad for the better part of a year, then learn one day that another brand has beat you to the same creative concept by a daunting two months, what do you do?

For British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s and agency Wieden + Kennedy London, the answer was to keep calm and carry on. The brand, known for its ambitious and occasionally polarizing Christmas ads, has just unveiled this year’s holiday spot—and it feels quite familiar.

That’s because retailer John Lewis, another major player in the Christmas ad game, released a similar ad way back in early September in partnership with supermarket Waitrose.

There are certainly many differences between the two. Sainsbury’s focuses on a nervous young pageant star singing 1998’s “You Only Get What You Give” by the New Radicals, with the stage production rapidly growing into a giant Christmas tree made of children dressed as everything from the ornaments to the plug (which is the highlight, to be sure).

John Lewis turns a seemingly modest children’s pageant into an unbelievably well-crafted ode to science fiction set to the tune of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

Sainsbury’s has so far downplayed any similarity, with broadcast marketing chief Laura Boothby telling The Guardian: “We are not too worried at all. Every single school up and down the country is doing a play or nativity play.”

She noted that the brand had been working on its spot since January and didn’t feel it was necessary to go back to the drawing board after seeing a similar premise from John Lewis in September.

The Sainsbury’s ad was directed by Michael Gracey, who also helmed the 2017 Hugh Jackman musical hit, The Greatest Showman.

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."