Brands hitch a sleigh ride to Hollywood for their festive selection

Burberry and H&M are among the slew of brands to enlist Hollywood heavyweights as the lines between advertising and content marketing continue to blur

Christmas is a time of high stakes for businesses, not least in the world of retail. Estimates put last year’s take in the UK over Christmas at £24 billion – one fifth of 2015’s £114 billion total.

Christmas ads are nothing new, but the shift in how brands are choosing to steer shoppers in their direction tells us a lot about how, when it comes to marketing, content is king.

Come Together

H&M has hired Wes Anderson to produce Come Together – a four-minute festive film starring Adrien Brody as the conductor aboard the H&M Lines Winter Express train.


The film has typically Anderson-esque values: immaculate symmetry, starched colours and the camera sliding up and across train windows like Tetris blocks. Crucially, there is no direct mention of the products available nor any mention of the shop itself.

Instead, the content speaks for the brand. Again, there’s nothing new about businesses aligning themselves with cool directors or actors, but the apparent absence of product or service shows the change in focus from advertising to ‘branded experience’.

Consumers are more clued up than ever before – they have no need for adverts to inform them of prices or deals. Instead, H&M is looking to project a concept. Their brand offers impeccably curated clothing, nods to the 1960s while still being achingly up to date. And, crucially, by letting an auteur loose with his vision, they appear to value art over commerce. Or in other words, they are marketing using content.

The Tale of Thomas Burberry

Across the clothing market, Burberry has taken this idea of art as advertising and gone one stage further. The retailer has created a trailer for a movie that doesn’t exist, based on the life and times of its founder, Thomas Burberry.

The period drama stars Domhnall Gleeson, Sienna Miller, Lily James and Dominic West as we see Thomas Burberry making clothes for prominent historical figures. The director is Asif Karpadia, who won an Oscar for his documentary Amy.

By highlighting how long the brand has been around, it aims to cement Burberry’s longstanding prestige and create emotional resonance – at a time of year when tradition counts for a lot.

On the first day of Christmas…

Both Burberry and H&M have recognised that producing content in the form of high-quality short films can lift them one level above standard advertising tropes. They can simultaneously play the game and opt out. And both have the resources to bring in the big guns – in front of and behind the camera – to help raise the content’s profile.

This isn’t tied specifically to Christmas – Burberry has previously hired another Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen, while Spike Jonze was at the helm for a Kenzo World advert earlier this year.

But retailers at Christmas have their eyes on the star at the top of the tree. Over the course of the last few years, John Lewis has achieved the Holy Grail for advertising campaigns – the premiere of its festive advert now considered as ‘a sign of Christmas’ by many. The high production values and emotional resonance of each year’s advert is a clear marker that content quality counts, and helps build unprecedented brand loyalty.

The definitive Christmas ad campaign used to be the sight of an enormous Coca Cola lorry rolling into town. These days, consumers need more than a massive billboard on wheels – they need to feel that the business is prioritising quality, not a sales drive.

As content marketers, we already know this. When it comes to creating successful campaigns, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – but don’t forget the brandy sauce on top.

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