1st February 2017

The rise of ‘Social Realism’ in advertising

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Nikki Taylor

The Rise of ‘Social Realism’ in Advertising

Christmas campaigns have passed, the “happy new year” or “new year new you” slogans have been put to bed. So what’s good about 2017 so far? With Politics and protests a plenty, a new POTUS and Brexit bringing us all down it's surprising that I find my happiness in advertising campaigns. I love seeing brands that have been around for years really make a change, they bring light into my living room on a cold and wet winter evening. With the term ‘Social Realism’ on the rise let’s explore some brands that are placing real people at the heart of their campaigns.


Let’s face it Sainsburys supermarkets have been stuck with slightly dry advertising for many years now, they don’t tend to focus on low prices or calling out other supermarkets like some of your other chains tend to do, they focus instead on delicious food… and if their 2016 Christmas campaign was anything to go by they love the family angle too.

Surprisingly though having the most successful Christmas ad of last year, surpassing big time Christmas campaigners John Lewis, Sainsbury's have broken away from their agency and hopped into bed with a new one, Wieden + Kennedy, known for their fantastic campaigns for the likes of Lurpak, TK Maxx and Chambord. No pressure on W+K then… On hearing the news I couldn’t wait for the launch of their first campaign and I must say it doesn't disappoint.

The campaign focuses on real people dancing and cooking in their homes, putting the campaign at the heart of family and reality, lets face it we’ve all twerked our way through our galley kitchen or attempted a sexy samba while cooking a chilli con carne no!?

Food Dancing Boogie 1280X0 C Default

For me it’s not the fun bouncy backing track or the well designed typography, or even the yummy food flying past the screen, it's simply the people that make it. I love this way of bringing the campaign into British homes, celebrating food and the joy it brings into homes of people of all ages, shapes and sizes. W+K have brought the brand back to the people, showing you don’t have to be a celebrity style chef to use their ingredients (sorry Jamie). They’ve re-energised a very traditional brand and made it more personal to the people who shop there.

“Food Dancing shines a light on a secret but ubiquitous kitchen behaviour that totally sums up the simple joy that can come with food. That personal moment when you’re in the kitchen, you’re totally in the rhythm of cooking, and you’re dancing to your favourite tune.”

W+K London

W+K also introduced social media into the campaign using #fooddancing as it’s main call to action, inviting viewers to add to the campaign online via twitter, facebook or Instagram. A perfect way to get a bounty of user generated content into the campaign, needless to say the hashtag and Sainsbury's were in the UK's top trends on twitter during the campaign's initial launch.

Fancy doing some #fooddancing of your own Sainsbury’s have made the track ‘Food Dancing (Yum Yum Yum)’ available on Spotify. ;)


I’m normally very good at blocking out adverts about banking, saving and mortgages but there are some pretty clever tricks being used to personalise banking and Santander’s - Here to help you prosper advert is a real attention seeker.


Again as with Sainsbury’s Santander have followed the ‘real people, real lives’ trend. Making the campaign personal by using clips from popular youtube videos and home movies to add real value to their campaign. The advert takes a look at some of life’s non-financial transactions, credit, debit, statements, investments and assets, all tied up with some wonderful narration and the appearance of our favourite sporting stars. Santander points out that prosperity isn’t always measured with a decimal point, but is instead about finding what you really want in life.

So what is it that gives us that warm fuzzy feeling when watching such adverts? The only thing I can see is that this putting real people at the heart of a campaign allows us to draw comparisons with our own lives, a father giving his daughter a piggyback ride or watching our dogs be greedy are daily occurrences in many households across the UK, mine included. Discovering the things that make families and individual lives prosper is a unique way of looking at banking, its inclusive and leaves not one person out of the loop.


Being more ‘Authentic’ could be perceived as a struggle for many banks and building societies, with the rise of the PPI claim and many of us losing faith in banking over the past few years Nationwide are really making a push to seem more real and less of an organisation and more of a friend.

Although this campaign launched in Autumn last year I feel it was overshadowed by the excitement of Christmas campaigns, but in 2017 it's really making moves to be my favourite campaign of all.

Nationwide Our Place

Nationwide are still focusing on real people and their lives but rather than using fun bouncy music or blooper style home video they are opting for the spoken word. This simple yet effective campaign really pulls on the heartstrings, focusing on real people and their stories spoken in the means of a poem.

Each advert uses a different Nationwide customer framed in a real life setting reciting a poem about their children or their living arrangements, business or saving woes. Many of the poems seem so authentic and real that they do create and emotional reaction, on many occasions I’ve had to dry my eye when one pops up during the Ads. (emotional designer alert)

This one is my particular favourite, I’ve lived in house shares so it really speaks to me…

Take a look at all of the poetry ads. Why not let us know which one is your personal favourite?

Social Realism isn’t new, we’ve been binge watching reality TV for sometime now, but the act of moving this into advertising is a bold and fresh move. Brands are saving money by ditching the famous faces and replacing them with your local newsagent or Sally down the road, we love seeing Sally dance her way through making a caesar salad no? Brands also save time when producing these campaigns, they are faster to produce and pack way more of a punch. I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more of this trend throughout 2017 with the likes of TalkTalk, McCain, Iceland and Aviva all following the trend. Watch this space.

Want to add that personal touch to a campaign? Get in touch with us to discuss your ideas with our campaign manager.

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