For someone who has served at Sainsbury’s for 13 years, Laura Boothby has become accustomed to the way in which the UK retail industry moves so incredibly quickly.
After German discounter Lidl generated the greatest sales rise in September – with revenues increasing 9.2 per cent, taking its market share up to six per cent – the Big 4 grocers were left questioning their relevance in today’s retail climate.
Boothby told Retail Gazette that “the grocery market is incredibly tough and changing rapidly” and acknowledged the importance of transparency within business.
“It’s really important to have a clear brand and go, ‘why do we exist?’, ‘what are we here to do?’,” she said.
One way in which she has been able to accomplish this as head of broadcast marketing is by being part of the team that produced Sainsbury’s Christmas advert for 2019.
The advert, released earlier this month, tells a Christmas story based around Sainsbury’s first store in 1869.
“We have been around for 150 years, you can rely on us and trust us, and know that we understand what’s important,” Boothby told Retail Gazette.
“It’s usually hard to produce a heartwarming ad for a grocer but we believe we’ve executed that.”
Undoubtedly, advertising that captures people’s imaginations and triggers emotions is more likely to be successful, and emotions are heightened during the Christmas period.
Boothby added that retailers are likely to be facing pressure this Christmas, whether it’s to produce the best Christmas ad or to generate the greatest sales rise.
“It’s eternally hard. I don’t necessarily think it’s just a Christmas thing,” she said.
In her 13-year career, one of the challenges that’s struck Boothby the most is the pace of change, and the constant challenge to “learn, improve and do better”. Despite the challenge, she believes “it’s a great environment to be in”.
“We do about 40 campaigns a year in our advertising world – not always on telly, but the amount that we’re doing in different seasonal events that we’re having to help our customers celebrate,” she said.
“In this industry, there’s some sort of nice competition”
“One of the ways the cultural century works is that if you’re someone that can thrive on that pace, you will go far and do well, but it’s not always for everyone. For me, the hardest but best thing about it is the rate of change.”
It’s no secret that John Lewis is widely-recognised as a serious contender to any retailer when it comes to producing the most impactful Christmas advert.
Since 2011, the department store has been making viewers laugh and cry, illustrated over the years through Monty the Penguin, Man on the Moon, Buster the Boxer, Moz the Monster and last year’s The Long Wait which told a short story about Elton John’s rise to success.
This year’s John Lewis advert marked the first ever joint Christmas advert with stablemate Waitrose, and told a story about a dragon named Excitable Edgar. Over the years, the retailer’s adverts have accumulated millions of viewers and their videos have gone viral on YouTube and social media.
Nevertheless, Sainsbury’s hasn’t fallen short. Its memorable 2014 advert about the true story match of football that happened in No Man’s Land on Christmas Day during WWI, clocked up more than 20 million views on YouTube. Its 2015 advert, Mog’s Christmas Calamity, did even better – with more than 40 million views.
Boothby said she “selfishly wants to be the best” in the market. She added that despite John Lewis’ popularity around the festive season, “the comparison isn’t necessary because Sainsbury’s is a different retailer selling broadly different things”. She said that a part of her job is to watch what competitors are doing, but tries “not to get too distracted by it”.
“If I’m being distracted by them then I’m not doing the best job I can do for Sainsbury’s and for us,” Boothby explained.
“I imagine they’re probably a bit the same. In this industry, there’s some sort of nice competition, we all want to be the best in the market. But in reality, we want to do the best for our own brand.”
Currently, Sainsbury’s main platform of advertising is through in-store marketing, which means Boothby focuses on the 20 million customers that pop into its stores across the UK every single week.
“If you think about the experience, the messages, what we said we’re doing for customers in store, that is actually our most important advertising channel,” she said.
“I find it hard to pick one because we are on TV, we are in press, we are in out of home, we are on social media, and as more and more advertisers are existing, it’s becoming even harder to reach customers and grab their attention.”
“Christmas is when people are spending the most amount of money with us”
In the run-up to Christmas, Boothby said she and the team would make sure to “help customers navigate and find what they want” for very simple and obvious reasons.
“Christmas is when people are spending the most amount of money with us,” she said.
“It’s incredibly important to customers, it’s that time of the year they’re going to bring their families together. But it can be very expensive, therefore it’s really important that we are able to lift them by offering the right products they need at the right prices.”
She added that she would work with her team to do specific customer insight research and feedback this Christmas that Sainsbury’s can take and learn on each year.
“It’s important we react to customers’ requests and take everything into account,” Boothby said.
“We’ve got an absolute wealth of customer information and data. Great news is, we’ve got a whole team of insight that are able to analyse and digest that information and then share it in a way that people like me can actually understand and use.
“We make sure each Sainsbury’s store feels like a really festive, joyful environment. People do really want that at Christmas; they want to feel a bit different and enjoy it.”