Cry or Buy – The Question Surrounding This Year’s Christmas Ad Extravaganza

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The buzz around Christmas ads is bigger than ever. There have been banned ads, mischievous ads, and even been biopic ads, with John Lewis & Partners’ tribute to the life of Elton John topping out 4C’s annual top 10 TV ads by social lift.

Amidst all the conversation, Phil Beastall’s poignant short film, “Love is a Gift” is bubbling to the top,  being heralded as one of the best Christmas ads of the year for its deeply emotional depiction of a Christmas without loved ones.

With festive ads now costing top brands several million pounds, “Love is Gift” achieved similar status and share of the conversation – but only set its creators back £50. The question now on the minds of those in marketing is “should other brands follow suit?”

Finding purpose in advertising

The short answer is no.

Festive ads often aim to deliver an epic story – an emotional message that transcends the noise of shopping, discounts, and deals. But while incredibly moving and beautifully executed, ads that prioritize storytelling without tying back to the brand’s value for frantic festive shoppers miss a crucial element of an effective retail advert. A Christmas advert is a call-to-action. Their raison d’etre is to ensure that at this crucial time of year, shoppers part with their cash on the websites and checkouts of the right retailer.

There are shining examples of brands that have done this well this year. While John Lewis’ Elton John ad was a powerful piece of storytelling, the company didn’t stop there. Instead, it took a clever two-fold approach, with Elton’s ad preceding the retailer’s biggest-ever product push of eight product ads, each with a different song by the artist. This strategy not only helps to drive sales but also gives an invaluable TV presence to a selection of brands including Nespresso and Lego.

Lidl is another great example of an advertiser that wove together great storytelling and brand purpose.  The supermarket skilfully kept this year’s campaign focused solely on product and price across a huge range of channels. Their satirical TV ads have been joined by a punchy out-of-home campaign involving mock-up M&S and Waitrose ads and a much-lauded play on the John Lewis ad involving a competitively priced keyboard.

TV ads + snackable social content = sales

Even if a brand masters the purpose in their festive television ads, there’s still more to be done to supercharge holiday sales.

In today’s world of multi-tasking and multi-screening, it’s not enough for retailers to put out a product advert on television like they used to and expect it to engage key audiences. For many of us, the first time we saw the John Lewis Christmas ad was on social media. And for those that see it first on TV, many will turn immediately to social media to comment.

Campaigns such as M&S’s “Must-Haves” took great video content across screens, from TV to Instagram and Twitter, creating a true “surround sound” feel and maximising the social commerce opportunity. While critiqued for its lack of any huge any significant emotional journey (unlike in previous years which invested huge budgets into creative such as Paddington), commentators have missed the fact that, to date, M&S is one of the only brands to fully integrate Instagram with its Christmas campaign.

Ultimately, retailers including John Lewis, M&S and Lidl are well poised to realise a bumper festive sales period and their efforts deserve that reward. What will be interesting is to see how their successes at this crucial time of year go on to inform the campaigns we see throughout 2019, as more brands and retailers realise the potential of truly cross-channel, surround sound campaigns.

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