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Marks & Spencer’s 125 years V Sainsbury’s 140 years

Briefly, it looked like a full blown Avocado War was going to kick off (See Brand Republic, Monday 18 May) but by the following Monday it was, sadly, all over. Sainsburys announced they had first stocked avocados in October 1962, a full six years before M&S. A spokesman said: ‘We are happy to let Sainsbury’s take the credit. We never claimed we were the first. We were just using the avocado as an example of how tastes have changed over the years.’ See also Avocadon’t by Retail Week’s Tim Danahan.

Now we are just left musing over the other similarities of the two ads. Forget swine flu, the new epidemic sweeping the country’s creative agencies is nostalgia fever! Nostalgia was first seen on 12th September last year with the launch of the epic 122-second Hovis ad by Miles Calcraft Briginshaw. There were reports of the fever spreading earlier this year when Virgin Atlantic recreated its 80’s launch before the epidemic was confirmed by the release of the Sainsbury’s and M&S ads within days of each other.

Sainsbury’s 60-second ad was created by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO Ltd and first appeared on 5th May (ITV).   It starts in 1869, with a boy at his kitchen table, dipping a soldier into an egg, before taking a jog through the historic events of the intervening years, bringing us right up to 2009 as our now 21st century boy returns to his contemporary kitchen table, dipping a soldier into an egg.

M&S launched their 125 years advert, in a 60-second spot during Coronation Street, on 18 May. Twiggy walks us through the history of the business, from its beginnings as a penny bazaar up to the present day, and ends on the “quality worth every penny” strapline.  Both M&S and Virgin Atlantic’s adverts were created by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R

So why is the nostalgia concept so popular? In the current climate (buzz word alert) when so many retailers are disappearing from the high street (even household names such as Woolworths), those remaining companies who have longevity will seize on their heritage as a USP.  Representing reliability, and trust and offering reassurance in an uncertain times, heritage allows brands to demonstrate how they have adapted to changing customers’ needs. With this in mind, it is easier to understand how two supermarkets could launch ads that are so alike.

The problem with ads that are so similar is the inevitable comparison and the question “So which is best and why?”  Here’s my vote:

Nostalgic ads tend towards black and white or sepia colours. One challenge with this visual treatment is that it removes some of the ‘zing’ available with modern colour techniques. This can also make the ad feel like a museum piece, on a pedestal, with the world observing but not necessarily engaging with it. If your brand wants to portray a sense of fun or celebration this is not easily achieved without colour.

M&S responds to the challenge with strategic use of rich colour, both on Twiggy and in some of the backgrounds.  Note the bright pashmina in many of the scenes, particularly the penny bazaar when everyone around her is dressed in period attire.  This technique was also evident in the Virgin 25thbirthday ad, with the bright red uniforms thrown into relief against the otherwise dull surroundings. By comparison the Sainsbury’s ad is almost three-quarters of the way through before we are treated to a pop of colour.

Similarly, Sainsbury’s bid for authenticity extends to low lighting throughout most of the advert.  M&S on the other hand sacrifices historical realism in its 125 years ad with a lighting master stroke. Note again the earliest scenes which have dark edges but a nice golden light on Twiggy’s face, so that she appears almost saintly.

And, in its use of joyous music, M&S scores again. With its celebratory, inclusive uplifting theme, I was almost standing to salute by the end!  And Virgin made a similarly powerful impact, featuring ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes To Hollywood.   In contrast the Sainsbury’s 140 years music, while beautiful, was more eerie than rousing and left me somewhat cold.

The considered use of knowing humour in the M&S and, to a lesser extent, Hovis ads, further counters any potential for nostalgia to drift into the realms of fusty history lesson while injecting some contemporary brand personality.

In case you hadn’t worked it out, for me, there is no question that M&S (c/o Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R) created the better ad.

So will there be more nostalgic ad concepts over the coming months or has the worst of the epidemic past?

It seems likely that we’ll be seeing more, and possibly many variations on the theme too, perhaps the first of these being Milky Way re-releasing their red car and blue car advert from the 80’s.

If you catch nostalgia fever, the best remedy seems to be; humour + colour pops + spritely music + clever lighting + strong personality = just what the doctor ordered.

Post a comment below to let me know what you think.


4 Responses

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  1. Callum says

    Strangely enough, the avocado was something I also picked up on – both supermarkets seem to claim that they introduced it to the nation’s collective palate.

    I think that brands are marketing nostalgia as an answer to today’s corporate, plastic society. Although it’s contradictory, nostalgic marketing resonates more personally with consumers. We’re much happier to buy into a brand that promotes ‘traditional’ values, when in fact, it’s simply another marketing strategy. It’s a real case of feeding consumers what they want.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Virgin Atlantic talks ROI and 25 years ad campaign - Retail Marketing Maxim linked to this post on July 2, 2009

    [...] Articles [...]

  2. Not Letting Bygones Be Bygones | The Retail Blogger linked to this post on August 12, 2009

    [...] swine flu, the new epidemic sweeping the country’s creative agencies is nostalgia fever!” says Retail Marketing Maxim. This trend seemed to kick off last year with the wonderful Hovis ad, before Virgin Spiced things [...]

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