There are a few tell-tale signs that Christmas is on its way; the big Christmas lights switch on, hearing the first Christmas songs on the radio, and mince pies on the supermarket shelves.
And now it seems that the yuletide John Lewis TV ad has also become something of a national event, marking the unofficial launch of Christmas in the UK, writes Sarah Brereton, director at brand and communications agency, Limewash.
Storytelling – not selling
This year’s ad tells the story of a boy named Joe, who is kept awake by an imaginary, 7ft monster (Moz the Monster) who lives under his bed. The two-minute clip focusses on telling a story to engage viewers, rather than showcasing its products, which is in line with their previously successful Christmas campaigns.
As well as TV, the £7m cross-channel campaign includes digital promotion and social media activity as well as more traditional print and storefront advertising. Yet, the eagerly anticipated commercial received mixed reactions and has fallen short of last year’s figures in terms of online engagement, perhaps because expectations for its ads are so high, they are almost impossible to meet.
When ads become news
The big retailers’ Christmas ads are hotly anticipated, highly competitive and big business. Brands are expected to spend a record £6bn on Christmas advertising this year, according to the Advertising Association.
Christmas campaigns are starting earlier every year and being teased online prior to the main event, using social media and hashtags to generate pre-launch excitement. The ads themselves have now become ‘news’, with scores of media outlets offering a round-up and giving their verdicts on this year’s concepts.
A different approach
In contrast to John Lewis, Sainsbury’s produced a stripped-down ad, which simply shows colleagues and shoppers singing along to a festive song; TalkTalk plumped for a ‘real-life’ ad representing Christmas as it really is; and Kevin the carrot returns for a second year for Aldi’s offering, this time with a love interest.
And it’s not just supermarkets and high street stores catching on to the brand engagement and hype resulting from this seasonal mass marketing. Other brands such as Barbour (continuing the story of the Snowman and Snowdog) and Greggs have also attempted to make their mark – with varying success.
Although the success of a Christmas campaign can add millions to a company’s bottom line, the backlash from the public can also do some serious damage to a brand.
While Barbour’s ad received a mainly positive response, Greggs was forced to apologise after publicity shots for its new ad campaign included a nativity scene in which baby Jesus is replaced by a sausage roll, showing how a misjudged idea can spectacularly backfire in such a high-profile arena.
And Greggs wasn’t alone. Threats to boycott Tesco were made after its ad featured a Muslim family; Amazon has been accused of spoiling the magic of Christmas for children and even the John Lewis ad has been accused of plagiarism by a former Children’s Laureate over similarities to his book ‘Mr Underbed’.
So, while brands are making greater efforts on the level of creativity around the Christmas period, they also need to be prepared for some potentially damaging judgments.
Companies have to consider all eventualities and have a crisis plan in place should the worst happen to avoid reputational damage and a negative impact on Christmas sales.
The smaller-scale approach
If you haven’t got the budget for a multi-million-pound ad, there are some simple ways to apply the big retailer’s basic campaign principles. An integrated, multi-channel approach using the storytelling technique, rather than just ‘selling stuff’ can work in any sector.
Creating content that your target audiences can engage with, and want to share, is the first step to creating a successful campaign. Then make sure they can easily access the story by using the channels and media outlets you know they read.
For example, a print ad in a relevant magazine or local newspaper can start the customer on the journey, but once they come to your site or social media platform, video can bring your story to life. Remember to make the content different on each channel, but the message consistent.
And the winner is…
So, which brand hit the top of the charts with their Christmas campaign? In a recent poll of 1,000 UK consumers on behalf of Marketing Week, it’s Amazon’s ad that came out on top when consumers were asked which ad they enjoyed the most.
Some 44 per cent of those polled said they ‘loved it’ – more than double the 21 per cent who said the same for the John Lewis ad. And with reports of M & S starting its Christmas campaign planning 15 months in advance, it looks like Christmas 2018 really is coming early for some!
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