24/01/2013 10:00 GMT | Updated 25/03/2013 05:12 GMT

Supermarkets and the Christmas Marketing War

It has been an interesting start to 2013 as far as the retail sector is concerned. We've seen the likes of HMV and Jessops collapse and we've heard all about how the big retailers - supermarkets especially - fared over the competitive Christmas period. With purse strings still tight, last Christmas saw perhaps an even bigger battle than usual for festive customers. And one weapon in their arsenal was their marketing efforts and Christmas adverts. We saw Heston and Delia in an empty warehouse for Waitrose and Christmas from a Mum's perspective from various others, in an attempt to convince the people of Austerity Britain to trust in each retailer for their Christmas groceries.

Now that they have announced their sales figures for the Christmas period, how have retailers' marketing efforts influenced their financial performance? Danny Donovan, Head of MediaCom UK's retail division looked at social sentiment via our Twitter Tracker*, YouGov's BrandIndex and YouTube channels to track their impact. Did this public feedback correlate with the results?


Tesco was the top ranking supermarket in the Twitter Tracker, second only to John Lewis and taking the top spot for most of December. It seems producing multiple ads with popular music tracks helped Tesco's campaign stay fresher for longer than its competition. When looking at Buzz scores Tesco has been the only major retailer to be in negative territory for most of the year, but the Christmas campaign has given them a significant boost which is set to be reflected in improved sales figures. However, it is yet to be seen whether this creative new marketing will mark the beginnings of a turnaround for the brand.


Morrisons' drop in sales has been widely attributed to its lack of e-commerce offering. But it actually came in at third place in the Tracker with Twitter sentiment starting well in November but becoming increasingly negative. With no stand-out aspects in their campaign it seems they were outfought by their competitors, but with the recent news that Ant & Dec will be the new faces of the brand, perhaps 2013 will see an upturn.


ASDA's Twitter Tracker score of -138 made it the only major retailer to end the period with net negative sentiment. Its ads were widely criticised for gender stereotyping, as one of our Real World Britain panel of video bloggers summed up: "it's the shop I go to most, but the ad would make me less likely to shop there as I feel quite strongly about it". That said it's also the cheapest of the four major supermarkets, perhaps explaining its sales growth but loss of market share as reported by Kantar.

Austerity Christmas

The 'Austerity Christmas' of 2012 also explains the positive results for retailers such as Lidl and Iceland who managed to do well without extensive marketing campaigns. But for Aldi, low prices combined with award-winning advertising resulted in a huge rise in sales of over 30%. The retailer continued to grow, reflected by its respectable Twitter score of 303, which it likely owes to a combination of its advertising and expanded range.

Sainsbury's and Waitrose

Sainsburys and Waitrose both scored rather low in the Twitter Tracker, with 126 and 110 points respectively indicating that their Christmas campaigns created less talkability. Ultimately this didn't matter as longer-term buzz scores show they've ranked highest throughout the year, perhaps explaining how they managed to keep people spending, with Waitrose in particular reporting stronger rises than all but the discounters.

Looking at overall video views, social buzz, and public sentiment, we see some surprises - Asda, Waitrose and Sainsbury's have all fallen a little flat, whereas Aldi and most surprisingly the until-recently underperforming Tesco have had a much better public response. It's clear that marketing efforts have had a big impact on Christmas sales but also that in Austerity Britain the price war is still a major factor. How will they fare in 2013? Watch this space.

* a performance score monitoring social buzz = positivity of comments x engagement x potential reach