Christmas ads 2017: a few turkeys, a few crackers

Big brands aim for the heart… again

It used to be simply the sight of the big red Coca-Cola truck rolling on to the screen that would signify the ‘official start of Christmas’. Now there are umpteen brands aiming to assume that mantle, throwing money and mince pies at increasingly big-budget campaigns.

And from a content point of view, there are a few interesting titbits to pick up on. Let’s take a look.

John Lewis – Moz the Monster

It’s hard to say when the sight of a John Lewis ad became such a standard bearer for the Christmas season. But like it or not, that is what’s happened.

This year is an all-out assault on multiple fronts. By now you will have all seen it – snoring monster under bed keeps little boy awake, boy and monster become friends, monster gives boy a nightlight to help him sleep, monster is no longer there.

Plenty has been said already about the familiar tropes at play, not least the mournful version of a Beatles song – this time Abbey Road’s ‘Golden Slumbers’, performed by Elbow.

And this seems to have been recognised by John Lewis itself. The store’s chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield told Marketing Week earlier in the year that its festive ads are “no longer as groundbreaking.”

So the ad is only half the story. There’s the Moz the Monster picture book, a recording of which is read by the actor Sally Phillips and available to download. There are also Moz filters on Facebook, monster selfie-makers at stores and, of course, cuddly toys of Moz for sale.

In many ways, the retailer is a victim of its own success. The public demands a spectacular advert that fits a certain genre – tear-jerking, festive, visually beautiful. The stakes are high, so John Lewis has spread the load across multiple channels. Maybe the ad won’t get as many YouTube views as Monty the Penguin from 2014, but maybe that’s not the only measure of success John Lewis is looking for.

Aldi – Kevin the Carrot

Another retailer looking to cement a long-running relationship with its audience is Aldi.

For the second year running we see the adventures of Kevin the Carrot. This time he’s at the end of a long dinner table and must overcome a variety of obstacles (flying peas, spiky forks) to reach Katie the Carrot, perched on top of a pile of mince pies.

It’s a festive enough ad, with a pay-off gag guaranteed to get any kids in the room laughing. But there’s something very by-the-numbers about it. The cute characters, the comforting celebrity voiceover (Jim Broadbent, in this case). It’s also worth noting that, much like John Lewis, the products sold by the retailer are mere background dressing.

In this sense, it seems as though the brands are recognising what content marketers have long known – that a hard sell just won’t cut it. Better to provide visually interesting content that strikes a chord through sentimentality or humour than to bombard a savvy audience with a sales schtick.

Amazon – ‘Give’ 60

Amazon’s offering is an interesting exercise in finding a different angle.

The production line at the Amazon factory brings to mind Santa’s workshop, with animated cardboard boxes bringing the requisite cuteness.

The online retail giant has chosen to emphasise the giving aspect of the season, rather than the receiving. So it’s Amazon as the modern-day Santa Claus? A bit of a stretch but it’s a good attempt at offsetting the rampant commercialism while also promoting the ease of use of Amazon’s delivery service.

What’s next?

It has to be said that Christmas adverts from big brands are somewhat blending into one. Companies are not just repeating themselves, they are picking up tropes from others. Asda’s ‘Imaginarium’ ad looks a lot like H&M’s Wes Anderson-directed ad from last year, for example.

Which is why some brands are giving up on the content train altogether.

Burberry’s high-concept campaign from last year was a trailer for a film that didn’t exist – a period drama based on the life of company founder Thomas Burberry. This year? Cara Delevingne and Matt Smith dance to the Pet Shop Boys version of ‘Always on my Mind’. In other words, content has been ditched in favour of straight-up, traditional advertising.

It feels like a bit of a tipping point. Frontrunner John Lewis has had decidedly mixed reviews for Moz the Monster. No doubt they will shift plenty of cuddly toys, but the ads seem to be aiming for a higher cultural connection than that.

And even on those bare commercial terms, brand valuation firm Kantar Millward Brown rates the campaign as thirteenth out of 17 ads measured for ‘persuasion’ – a score based on how likely an ad will convert a viewer into a buyer. Amazon topped the pile in that category.

Whether you aim high with a multi-channel content campaign featuring brand new children’s characters, or just stick some celebrities in your clothes and hire a talented photographer, there really is no excuse for repetition. Amazon doesn’t get much love for its business practices, but you have to confess that it knows its strengths, and highlights them effectively – i.e. it is an efficient, streamlined shopping experience.

Burberry’s attempt to dip its toe in the content waters in 2016 may have been jettisoned this year, but brands shouldn’t be afraid to try something different.

Traditions don’t just have to be followed, they can also be made.

[Image: John Lewis]

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