The Bude Tunnel: How Sainsbury’s won Christmas with an internet joke

The challenge

Christmas is a rough time for retailers’ egos. With shiny telly ads and hefty media budgets as standard, it’s tough for a brand like Sainsbury’s to cut through and get heard. And if you do? That’s when the hating starts. There’s nothing the Internet loves more than shredding your Christmas ad.

How do you make people really feel warm and fuzzy about your brand at Christmas? 

The plan

The glossy brand ad needed a counterpart for the social generation. Our aim was deliver brand warmth in a way that chimed with savvy, social-first shoppers.

We spotted an opportunity in the sleepy town of Bude, Cornwall, where a plastic Sainsbury’s tunnel was racking up ratings as a local attraction on TripAdvisor. The story was pure Reddit catnip. Silly, good-hearted, and quintessentially British, it had all the makings of a bigger internet phenomenon. We determined to make it our Christmas star - and put our client, Sainsbury’s, right at the heart of the story. 

So we gave it a makeover. 


The key was to take the joke further than anyone could imagine. This wasn’t going to be a string of LEDs and a reindeer. It was going to be Britain’s best Christmas light display. So preposterously, unexpectedly magical, no one would believe it was in a Sainsbury’s car park. 

Now this was a tunnel that deserved its place on TripAdvisor. 

The results

The town of Bude couldn’t get enough of it. And the internet lit up… 

Hundreds even petitioned Sainsbury’s to keep the lights on. 

The amplification plan for scaling the story was simple: create a Christmas spectacle worth talking about. Sure enough, what began as a local interest piece quickly made national news. In a week dominated by Brexit dramas, our tunnel even beat Boris to the #1 spot on the BBC. Days later we were trending on Fox News. (Even we were surprised about that!) 

#1
Trending on Twitter
#1
Viewed BBC Video
>100
pieces of coverage worldwide
94%
directly attributable to Sainsbury’s

What had started as an internet joke became a magical brand moment for Sainsbury’s. The Bude Tunnel lit up the internet worldwide, becoming 2018’s biggest, and brightest, good news story. 

Our mortal eyes do not do it justice, imo. We just do not have the adequate rods and cones!

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Sainsbury's: The Bude Tunnel

The story of how Sainsbury’s won Christmas with an internet joke.

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