David Beckham, now deep into ‘national treasure’ territory, is used to making an impact on the field and off it, even if some of his more recent appearances for England were underwhelming.

Now it is the turn of supermarket giant Sainsbury’s to see if old Goldenballs can still work his magic, after Beckham was unveiled as the face of its Active Kids campaign. While Justin King insisted he was “not a replacement for Jamie”, comparisons are inevitable because he follows so closely in the footsteps of the previous brand ambassador and fellow 36-year-old Essex boy.

Experts believe Sainsbury’s immensely successful tie-up with Oliver had run its course and, after more than a decade promoting the supermarket’s emphasis on provenance and animal welfare, it was time for a change. But with Oliver set to bow out this Christmas - his final ad airs for the first time this weekend - can Beckham be an inspired substitute? And what role exactly will he play?

Sainsbury’s has yet to reveal exactly how Beckham will be deployed. It is understood the campaign will begin in cinemas, with a major push on TV the obvious next step. After the initial focus on Active Kids and the Paralympics, Beckham will increasingly be used to develop the Sainsbury’s ‘masterbrand’ - before zoning in to communicate more specific ideas.It’s open to debate how natural a fit Beckham is with the notion of living well ‘for less’, however. The former England skipper is a dedicated father and an exemplary physical specimen.

But his lifestyle is not known for its austerity - and previous forays into food have not been successful, with his GO3 fish fingers ignominiously axed after less than a year. There are also elements of Sainsbury’s offer that will never sit comfortably with the healthy positioning - drinks, snacks and confectionery being obvious examples.

“It is hard to imagine Posh and Becks pushing their trolley down the aisle of Sainsbury’s,” says James Littlewood of The Value Engineers. He contrasts the ultimate jet-set duo with Andrew Flintoff, who is currently putting his beefy charms to good use for Morrisons.

“Flintoff has an everyman profile that Beckham does not, dating from his drunken shenanigans after the Ashes in 2005,” says Littlewood. “It’s easy to imagine Flintoff shopping in Morrisons. Sainsbury’s faces more of a challenge associating Beckham with its food in a believable way. That may influence how they use him.”

He adds: “Sales of nutmeg went up by 400% when Oliver suggested putting it on spaghetti Bolognese. With Beckham it will be more of a struggle to push specific SKUs.”While Beckham might not fit well with austerity, however, branding experts believe the signing of Beckham illustrates a further shift in strategy for the chain.

“With Try Something New Today, Sainsbury’s was perfectly positioned at the premium end of the mass market to take advantage of the UK megatrend towards home cooking and the emergence of the celebrity chefs,” says Richard Buchanan, founder and director of consulting at brand consultancy The Clearing.

“Oliver was all about accessibility, an everyman who was clearly also very good with food. But consumers are changing and the cooking megatrend is kind of played out for Sainsbury’s. Its position at the quality end of the mass market is established and should be retained through the products and in-store. Now it’s putting corporate responsibility and wellbeing at the centre of its strategy. Signing Beckham was about adding new meaning to the brand: as something that does good for its customers, both by saving them money and, in the case of Beckham, with this wellbeing theme.”

“Anyone that uses the Beckham brand will benefit from huge awareness and the positive association of pairing with someone who is still a national hero,” says Littlewood. “Beckham represents a focus on health, nutrition - and, taken to a logical extreme, performance.”

The timing is apt, too, with lawmakers in Whitehall openly questioning if the voluntary framework set by the Responsibility Deal can deliver the sort of behavioural changes demanded by health lobbyists. Instead of presiding over choreographed barbecues and basting festive turkeys, Beckham will begin as a figurehead for Active Kids and front the supermarket’s £40m Paralympic sponsorship.

“Beckham is exactly what Sainsbury’s would have been looking for in a partner for Active Kids,” agrees Claire Nuttall, insight and innovation director at brand agency 1HQ. “He doesn’t just talk the talk, he gets involved. Kids aspire to be like Beckham, yet he appeals to all. Sainsbury’s is also demonstrating a serious commitment to tackling obesity.”

As one of the London bid’s most visible ambassadors, Beckham boasts impeccable Olympic credentials. He’s also one of just a handful of top footballers to state their desire to play for a combined Team GB.

“The bigger challenge is whether Sainsbury’s has chosen a great ‘activity’ spokesman, yet forgotten about the wider brand,” Nuttall warns. “Oliver was a great brand ambassador, which is a completely different role and has a very different set of objectives to deliver against strategically and commercially.”

Potentially Beckahm could also help Sainsbury’s grow sales of ‘active’ toys and sports gear, she argues. But Oliver was “a true ambassador for the whole of Sainbury’s as a business, not just a popular voice”. Beckham, she suggests, may struggle to find the same relevance to shoppers.

“The heartfelt passion Oliver brought to Sainsbury’s has helped change the way we, as a nation, think about food values and Sainsbury’s. That was a key strategic goal Sainsbury’s highlighted as imperative to changing perceptions of its food business. He helped make that transformation a reality, across all touch points of the brand. Beckham has much more limited potential.”

In the short term, then, the supermarket can expect its profile to soar thanks to Goldenballs’ golden glow. And depending on execution, he can add a halo to its corporate social responsibility message. If they use him to flog food, however, forget it.

In the words of one Sainsbury’s watcher, “Beckham is probably as good in the kitchen as Jamie Oliver would be on the right wing for England”.

Jamie Oliver
Age: 36
Nickname: The naked chef
Family man: Married to Jules. Four kids with bizarre names (Poppy, Daisy Boo, Petal Blossom Rainbow, Buddy Bear)
Worth: £106m
Business empire: Cookbooks, TV shows, restaurants, Recipease food stores, grocery range

David Beckham
Age: 36
Nickname: Goldenballs
Family man: Married to Victoria, four kids with bizarre names (Brooklyn, Romeo, Cruz, Harper)
Worth: £135m (with Victoria)
Business empire: Countless endorsements, clothing range, fragrances