Sainsbury's debuts a Dickensian epic that imagines the 'birth' of St. Nick

Sumptuous spot by Wieden & Kennedy celebrates U.K. grocer's 150-year anniversary

Published On
Nov 12, 2019

Editor's Pick

Sainsbury’s Christmas ad this year marks the U.K. grocer’s 150th anniversary with an epic Dickensian spot that tells the tale of a chimney sweep who’s taken under the wing of the original founder’s wife.

The story begins with a nod to “Oliver Twist" in Victorian London, where some ragged young orphans admire the Sainsbury’s grocery stall brimming with fruit. A young chimney sweep, Nick, is wrongly accused of stealing a clementine that’s fallen off the table and his Fagin-like workmaster convinces the surrounding crowd that Nick is a thief and has him banished from the city.

Wandering outside the city in snowy wastes, he’s rescued by Mary Ann Sainsbury, wife of the founder, who was witness to his banishment. Nick persuades her to help reward his chimney sweep friends back in London before donning a red and white fur hat and cape and heading off into the sunset, presumably to grow up and become St. Nicholas.

The film features a number of witty touches—for example, a Victorian gent in the crowd scene shouts out “Give him a fair trial” before hastily reverting to “Burn the Witch” with everyone else.  The tale was sumptuously filmed in Romania by Pulse Films director Ninian Doff, who’s helmed music videos for the likes of the Chemical Brothers. And if you think you recognize the narrator, it's "Succession" actor Brian Cox.

Meanwhile, the W&K creative team on the project included Tom Bender and Tom Corcoran, who were behind Nike's award-winning  "Nothing Beats a Londoner" spot. 

Sainsbury's admits it took some “creative license" on the story—for example, its original grocery store didn’t sell fruit, but eggs and bread; London isn't surrounded by mountains and St. Nicholas' origins lie somewhere in Turkey rather than Victorian London. But Head of Broadcast Marketing Laura Boothby said at a press briefing that there were "elements" of a true story in the attempt to recreate the Christmas of 1869, when Sainsbury's set up shop in London's Drury Lane. “This is the only year we could talk about being 150, and of course many of the tropes of Christmas come from that era," she said. "The challenge was how do you tell a story about our brand that is also emotional and heartwarming?”

Sainsbury's is of course not the first brand to dramatize the life of its founder to highlight its heritage; Burberry did it in its 2016 Christmas epic, Dodge romanticized its founders the Dodge brothers in 2015, and earlier this year, Mercedes-Benz featured founder's wife Bertha Benz in its International Women's Day ad.

Boothby also mentioned that using the clementine as a hero product helped the brand’s media buy as it’s healthy and not a HFSS (high fat salt or sugar) item that would have meant restrictions on airtime. As for the fact that it matches Sainsbury's orange branding? That was just a "happy coincidence," she said.



Nov 12, 2019
Client :
Agency :
Wieden & Kennedy-London
Client :
Laura Boothby
Client :
Donna Murray-Clark
Client :
Laura Zaremba
Client :
Rhiannon Lee
Client :
Jess McFaul
Creative Director :
Dan Norris
Creative Director :
Ray Shaughnessy
Creative :
Tom Bender
Creative :
Tom Corcoran
Creative :
Tomas Coleman
Creative :
Mat Kramer
Executive Creative Director :
Tony Davidson
Executive Creative Director :
Iain Tait
Group Account Director :
Katherine Thomson
Group Account Director :
Lucy Murray
Account Director :
Mike Waywell
Account Manager :
Laura Simmons
Account Executive :
Oliver Mitchell
Chief Strategy Officer :
Ben Armistead
Planning Director :
Andy Wright
Planner :
Rory Foster
Comms Planning Director :
Lee Ramsay
TV Producer :
Richard Adkins
TV Production Assistant :
Dee Fenning
Creative Producer :
Rashel Tashchian
Design Director :
Karen Jane
Lead Designer :
Phil Rosieur
Designer :
Jon Barnett
Motion Graphics :
Jon Harris
Business Affairs :
Alex Coomer
Production Company :
Pulse Films
Director :
Ninian Doff
Executive Producer / Managing Director :
James Sorton
Production Company Producer :
George Saunders
Production Manager :
Ben Burdock
Director of Photography :
John Mathieson
Production Designer :
Jon Henson
Costume Designer :
Selina Wong
Editorial Company :
Editor :
Leo King
Edit Assistant :
Charlie Von Rotberg
Edit Producer :
Angela Hart
VFX Company :
Time Based Arts
VFX Head of Production :
Josh Robinson
VFX Producer :
Jo Gutteridge
VFX Supervisor :
Leo Weston
VFX Supervisor :
Sam Osborne
Colorist :
Lewis Crossfield
Sound Company :
Sound Designer :
Jack Sedgwick
Sound Producer :
Beth Tomblin
Music Company :
Music Supervisor / Producer :
Sian Rogers
Composer :
Chris White

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