Commentary

Sainsbury's 'The Greatest Gift' Isn't Worth Giving

I have two messages to the people who were kind and generous enough to purchase a birthday present for my kid last week. First: The next time you gift anyone in my family something that includes more than 30 pieces or has assembly demands more involved than “put batteries in place where batteries go,” I will revenge-gift you with an envelope filled with baby powder, addressed in block letters and sent without a return address. Second: Thanks! He loves the presents!

And now we go from one orgy of commerce to the next, with the holiday season somehow set to formally commence in a week. It sneaks up on you, doesn’t it? One day you’re reordering your closet so that the long-sleeved shirts are on a lower shelf than the short-sleeved shirts, the next you’re attempting to convince the nice insurance lady that it is indeed possible to herniate a disk while carrying porterhouse-thick catalogs from the mailbox to the house.

I used to say that it’s all downhill from Thanksgiving - civilization’s greatest holiday, even in a year when tasers will be have to be aggressively deployed to prevent political conversation from poisoning the meal - but marketers have been in Christmas mode for a solid two weeks now. We’ve reached the point where the local waiting-room-rock radio station comes across as disciplined and humane by waiting to switch to a holiday-music-only format until tonight. It’s November 18.

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Velly velly British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s lacks any such sense of restraint. Its “OFFICIAL Christmas Advert 2016” - caps theirs, not mine - hit the tubes on Sunday and has spread like a superflu in the days since. As of late Thursday afternoon, the video had been viewed more than 5.2 million times on YouTube. That’s not exactly Samsung-unveils-new-phone-features or Beyoncé-shades-Tay-Tay territory, but for a non-global-superbrand it’s pretty darn impressive.

There are thus two ways to view the popularity of “The Greatest Gift.” Explanation one: It is supercool and awesome and OMG maybe Aunt Maris hasn’t seen it yet gonna text her now BRB. Explanation two: People really, really, really like holiday season and the anticipation that comes with it.

I lean towards the latter thinking. “The Greatest Gift” tries hard to be an Event-with-a-capital-E. Its stop-motion animation is elegant and richly detailed; its original song, written by Conchord Bret McKenzie and voiced by “Carpool Karaoke” recidivist James Corden, has a lilting melody and an actual hook, rendering it more of an earworm than most of what’s on the radio nowadays (with the rap posse entourages! and the Bieber! and the Instagram tattoo selfies!). The production is involved enough to merit a (really interesting!) making-of companion clip.

It’s the plot of “The Greatest Gift” that doesn’t keep giving. The setup: It’s Christmas and there’s a lot going on. Work is busy, traffic is nutzo, lines are long, etc. The dad protagonist sing-laments, “If I had a clone, I could do so much more.” Meaning: thoughtful presents for everyone on his list, as opposed to a few extra hours of research each day on that lupus vaccine.

Arriving home one night to find his family asleep, the dad is hit by a bolt of inspiration. Y’all tend to be a sophistimacated audience, so I’ll let you guess what happens next. Does the guy: 1) acknowledge his obvious limitations as a dad/husband/provider and hop the next boxcar to Chumpville; 2) go to the Sainsbury’s candy store and buy lots of candy and eat some of the candy but give the candy to the cheerful street urchins he passes on the way home to the candy party and his kids totally understand; or 3) decide to shunt aside work and all else in favor of spending more time with the people he loves?

Yeah, you knew where this was heading, right down to the key change that follows Corden’s enthusiastic exhortation that “the greatest gift I could give is meeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.” There’s a sweetness to “The Greatest Gift” that one rarely sees in brand videos, but any number of marketers are gonna go the sugary route in the weeks ahead. In the end, the only thing that distinguishes the video is its early arrival.
1 comment about "Sainsbury's 'The Greatest Gift' Isn't Worth Giving".
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  1. Brett c Mccarty from Big Rocks Marketing Cooperative, November 18, 2016 at 10:47 a.m.

    Granted the ad is a bit saccharine, however, it is a wonderful depiction of diverse families.  Well played Sainsbury.

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