How a brilliant advert can alienate a workforce

November 21, 2016

It’s Christmas advert season – where sentimental festive spots crafted by advertising’s brightest minds peacock their way across our screens, vying for the nation’s attention.

A well-executed Christmas ad can have a transformative effect.

John Lewis’ annual offering has become a cultural event, generating reams of social media reaction, newspaper column inches – even canine copycats.

This year, Sainsbury’s offering hits all the right notes:

I’ve no doubt the agency that created it – rightly – marvelled at how well it hit the brief: entertaining, moving, memorable.

It’s core message reminds us that the festive period is all about spending time with your loved ones.

But there’s one key part that’s been overlooked… no one thought about how the ad’s core message would resonate with its own employees.

Turns out, the advert hit a very contentious issue straight on the head – Sainsbury’s has asked a lot of its employees to forgo their family time by working on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day.

The perceived hypocrisy has not gone down well:

All of this has meant that a large chunk of Sainsbury’s workforce now feel alienated, disconnected – let down.

The media has picked up the story and now Sainsbury’s has a full-blown PR crisis on its hands, not to mention an internal comms crisis too.

It’s not clear whether this faux pas is a result of internal comms being treated like a second-class citizen compared to its bigger brother external comms, or if employees were even told that this advert would be airing and the concept behind it.

What is clear is that this whole episode could have been avoided by consulting internal comms colleagues. It’s the epitome of why external and internal comms need to be aligned.

Unfortunately, Sainsbury’s has turned a great advert (that’s raising money for charity) into a contentious talking point – all because it failed to understand its employees’ feelings.