6th Dec 2019
You know what that means: an onslaught of Christmas adverts, as brands big and small jump on the festive bandwagon. They aim to make us laugh, cry, and feel warm and fuzzy inside. They thrive on the sentimental nature of Christmas, invoking fond memories of childhood. Often, they speak to greater themes of the season: that Christmas is a time to give back, a time to be with those we love, and a time spread gratitude for the lives we lead.
And, let’s be honest, a time to spend our hard-earned cash.
For the past decade, retailers have started their Christmas marketing earlier and earlier. It’s a prime example of how marketers adopt, reflect and respond to consumer mindsets. What we want to ask is: how have seasonal commercials developed - and is there more change to come?
Sometimes, it feels like we’ve seen it all as retailers slug it out in the now-traditional Christmas advert battle. Whose can cause the biggest stir of emotion, or whose character is the most loveable? The John Lewis advert has become the ne plus ultra of the genre. The department store relies on failproof tropes: cute children, stirring music, lovable mascots and a cosy Christmas home. Intriguingly, it wasn’t always this way. This fascinating article charts their evolution, with the firm tinkering with its recipe by adding in one of those tropes until, in 2011, they hit the festive sweet spot.
It’s not always a recipe for success, however. In 2018, John Lewis revived ideas from two previous adverts - the Elton John hit ‘Your Song’ from its 2010 Christmas offering, and the journey through life from a spring advert of the same year. We saw how one gift changed the course of a little boy’s life, revealing that he went on to become the superstar himself. Many viewers shed a tear, but many thought this pushed the tradition too far; some felt it was more an ad for Elton John than for a department store.
What viewers demand is authenticity. An example of a successfully authentic campaign is John Lewis’ Man on the Moon advert where they teamed up with Age UK to highlight the crippling loneliness felt by our elderly population in Christmas.
At Christmas, brand awareness is perhaps more important than anything else. However, awareness does not always translate to appreciation. A survey by market researchers System1 suggests that 2018 was potentially the worst Christmas ad season on record. According to its own data, only a third were rated three or more out of five. So is the game changing?
A good video marketing strategy is invaluable in distancing you from your competitors. However, while the cynics in us watch Christmas adverts with humbug, there is one each year that catches audiences’ hearts. This Christmas, people are raving about Hafod Hardware, a shop in Wales whose £100 video has taken off, rivalling brands with budgets 10 times theirs. This heartwarming advert has the perfect mix of childhood-reminiscence while still advertising the shop’s products and services. It shows how what can be achieved with small budgets. It also helps to evoke the reality that while Christmas is a joyful time of year, it’s also difficult for many because it’s expensive. People may love the Waitrose and John Lewis adverts, but the reality is not all of its fans can afford to shop there. Creating something amazing on a budget for someone you love is true to the real meaning of Christmas.
In recent years, demand for brands to convey authenticity and social consciousness on top of sales has risen. Consumers want their favourite brands to believe in something, so they can too.
Sometimes the message isn’t so well-received. Asda’s 2015 advert focussed on the overworked efforts of a mum and her endeavours to marshal her family around Christmas. While clearly aimed at the traditional market of the stay-at-home mum, it was widely criticised for portraying a sexist, out-of-date version of a family home. As many viewers’ heads shook in disapproval as nodded in recognition.
Attempts to drive home a message can also cause problems with regulators. Iceland’s 2018 Christmas advert was rejected by Clearcast for breaching rules that ban political advertising. The now-famous video of a lost orangutan, made by Greenpeace, was consequently shared on social media and gained massive traction. Iceland had promised to eradicate palm oil from their products and to stop using single-use plastic because of their disastrous effects on the rainforest and planet. For something so widely discussed, should this message legitimately have been blocked? Political views are subjective; Age UK’s was accepted when I’m sure many view discussions around the ageing population as political. So, as Christmas ads change their face to communicate a greater message, are they in competition with regulatory bodies with the power of censorship?
Seasonal commercials have transformed, so we wonder how next year’s will respond. Will CSR strategies be more at the forefront? Similarly, will more companies go back to basics? One thing will remain – that the first Christmas advert will signal the start of the festive rush to our hearts, minds and wallets.
Here at Middle Table, we are guided by three principles: 1. Understand the client; 2. Be imaginative; 3. Be responsive. This is how we go about creating hard-hitting and engaging content for your company. If you would like to learn more, get in touch today.