Sobeys' secret shopper turns heads in holiday campaign

The grocer shifts from product-focused ads to storytelling to build an emotional connection with consumers

Sobeys is using some magic to pull on consumer heartstrings with its Christmas advertising campaign, which launched Wednesday night.

The cornerstone of the campaign, which is being used for the Sobeys and Safeway banners, is a 60-second TV ad called “Secret Shopper” that shows a young brother and sister shopping with their mom when they spy a man with a large beard and red coat picking up his groceries. The younger boy is quick to realize who he is, while it takes a little longer for big sister to believe it actually is Santa Claus. “It’s not that hard to believe,” says a voiceover, before the tagline “Create a little holiday magic” appears on screen.

The feel-good ad is crafted to remind consumers to believe in the magic of the Christmas season. The message is that Sobeys and Safeway believes in Christmas and wants to help bring that magic to life, since food is a large and important part of the season.

It’s a “new approach” for Sobeys, said Lyne Castonguay, the grocer's executive vice-president, merchandising. In the past, Sobeys Christmas advertising in most of the country focused on products for the holiday rather than tapping into the spirit of the season. “We want to build an emotional connect with our customer,” she said. “We want our customers to feel that magic of the holidays, the magic in our stores. We want them to feel like they can share this exciting time of year with us.”

In part, the new tone reflects a larger company-wide makeover (called Project Sunrise), said Castonguay. “We’re in a transformational phase and wanted to transform our marketing as well.”

But, it was also inspired by the long-famous “Star of Christmas” Sobeys campaign from Atlantic Canada which opted for emotional connections, storytelling and a popular song rather than focusing on product. Sobeys remade that iconic ad for its east coast holiday campaign last year. “We saw how well it connected in Atlantic Canada with our customer,” she said.

Aside from the brand spot there are shorter product-focused spots for digital and social media, a holiday magazine is dropping in stores now and four Sobeys Christmas playlists will be running on Spotify, she said.

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