Ad Breakdown: Sainsbury’s Olives

Lewis Folkard

Lewis Folkard

Suffolk-based conversion copywriter.

Richard Foster's Olive Ad for Sainsbury's

If I had to pick an all-time favourite copywriter, Richard Foster would be near the top – if not at it.

For those that haven’t read his entry in D&AD’s “The Copy Book”, it’s well worth reading – his walkthrough of writing this ad is almost as good as the ad itself. Genuinely.

Anyway, let’s dive into Foster’s olive ad for Sainsbury’s.

The Art and Headline

“Would you like a martini with your olive?” – a clever but slight play on words. It’s enough to just catch you off-guard so you double-take the question. It forces you into “thinking”. 

…a rarity these days.

Now, yes, I know it’s subtle – to the point that I’m actually questioning whether that does count as thinking – but it’s enough. The quick pattern disruption helps the headline stick and pulls you into the body copy. The ‘benefit’ (aka big, juicy olives) isn’t pushed down your throat. Instead, it invites you to try for yourself.

Next, the art. It’s simple. And it’s straight. It shows you the “benefit” because the headline does the heavy lifting. 

Also, note how the ad doesn’t look like an ad. It looks more like an article in a food magazine which is going to help readership. The logo isn’t taking up 3/4 of the page either.

The Copy and Structure

To help you read the copy, I’ve put it here.

And I’ve then split the main body into 3 sections that I feel make sense. 

Now, I hope it goes without saying, but a lot of copy structures aren’t intentional. Some are. Some aren’t. And in any ad breakdown you see from me, the structure is just my take. 

For many copywriters, the words just come out. I say that loosely because I know how much research and refining goes into crafting copy. But for many, once the ideas are buzzing around their head, the delivery is fairly intuitive. At least after many years of experience. Foster’s entry in The Copy Book should be a testimony to that.

Let’s have a look at section 1.

Section 1

First, I want to draw your attention to the story appeal that comes through here. The “Queen Olive” plays the main character, and the personification helps us visualise and imagine the characteristics of the olive. 

This, in turn, disarms the reader, making it easier for the ad to charm them with the selling points.

Queen” (albeit the type of olive) also has associated characteristics that coincidentally help dramatise its grandiosity, especially when it’s compared to the “commoner” olives.

The next point comes straight from Foster’s mouth. 

“Before I finish the sentence I’ve already got the next line. “And twice as delicious.” I immediately realise that “twice as delicious” is a matter of opinion, so I make it a matter of fact. “And, some would say, twice as delicious”.”

A matter of fact carries a lot more oomph and credibility than a matter of opinion. And when you compare Foster’s original line to his final, it’s clear how much more persuasive it is.

Next, the introduction of more senses.

By appealing to more senses, your mind attaches more capacity to it, and the message becomes more memorable. Foster’s description of the Queen olive does this very well and paints a clear and sticky picture for the reader.

And then coming back to the story appeal, Foster brings in a little bit of background to the main character, the Queen olive “from Seville”. He ties in some social proof, “the most renowned olive-growing district in Spain”, which, again, deepens the connection between the reader and the olive. This connection, that’s built on throughout the ad, helps make the ad more persuasive.

Section 2

This section starts with a (very) long sentence. 28 words, in fact. Foster breaks up this sentence with brackets and turns something syllable-heavy into something smooth and easy to read. There’s a lot to include here, and Foster makes it look easy here – with some long, awkward words too.

In the next part of this section, we see more story appeal with additional ‘characters’ being introduced – the rest of the olive range.

Now, this could just be me (it likely is)… but I don’t know olives by their name or location. I’m anything but an olive connoisseur. And hearing the specific type of olive (and location they’re from), I kinda get the feel knowing the names and locations of olives is something an ‘elite olive-loving group’ would know. I, naturally, assume this makes them better, and I’m now more convinced these olives are quality. 

I guess there’s also an element of aspiration in this too. It’s nice to think of myself as an olive connoisseur, and buying olives from which I know their origins makes me feel good.

Section 3

Here Foster disqualifies competitors to better position Sainsbury’s – “Sainsbury’s offer a wider range of olives than any other supermarket”. From all the little acceptances (like the specifics about each olive), the ‘wider range’ claim is accepted and believed without much pushback.

I also really like how the ad talks up to the reader – “as you may have guessed” – and this makes them feel important. We saw this in the last section too. 

But pay special attention to when the “as you may have guessed” comes in. It’s just before the main claim/selling point of the ad. In some ways, it taps into the law of reciprocity. The reader then feels obliged to do something good… like… err… maybe buy Sainsbury’s olives?

It then ends with another ‘claim’ and a call to action – “So if you want the choice of the choicest olives, choose Sainsbury’s.”

The claim doesn’t spoon-feed the reader or tell them the olives are quality. It does so indirectly. And because the reader has to figure it out (I say that loosely because it’s pretty obvious) it sticks more too.

It’s also just a lovely written sentence to end on. 

Other Observations

Some observations I’ve already touched on, but I’ll take them into a bit more detail here. And the first two cross over quite nicely – so I’ll begin there.

First, the use of language. Foster is very selective with his words – even if it is natural to him. Every word tells a story. And every word already has its own associations tied to it in the reader’s mind. Foster builds on them to paint a clearer picture for the reader.

Words like: “queen”, “commoner”, “plump”, and “luscious fruitiness”. I know it might seem pretty obvious and basic, but it’s impactful. And it’s the small details that add up here to make this ad so special.

Also, notice how Foster describes the relationship between the olives and what you can eat them with – “adorning”, “perfect partner” – these words, too, have their own connotations and deepen the connection between the reader and the olives.

“Commoner” being used with “Queen” also dramatises the size of the Queen olive and plays into the storytelling.

The background and context of each type of olive, as we’ve already touched on, only deepens the connection further. It reduces mental barriers and makes it easier for the ad to charm you into selling the ‘benefits’ of Sainsbury’s olives.

And then I can’t finish the breakdown without touching on just how easy this ad is to read. It’s brilliant. The rhythm, cadence and flow of the ad make it effortless to consume and almost makes olives exciting.

That’s it for today.

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