It’s now an annual tradition that the nation waits with bated breath for the annual parade of Christmas adverts to be released. This year, we had Elton John featuring in the John Lewis advert and Iceland put themselves very clearly and cleverly in the public’s minds with their advert about palm oil. But how have we come to the point where so much advertising uses emotion rather than a commercial focus to sell a product at Christmas?
Even for the most cynical types, Christmas has a reassuring habit of filling us with a good spirit, an appreciation of family as well as a healthy dose of nostalgia. This nostalgia is the reason why the Coca Cola truck advert is still so relevant to many of us. It simply embodies Christmas in many of our minds as we’ve grown up seeing it.
For many years, Coca Cola had the monopoly on Christmas adverts, with no real competition from other brands. Then entered John Lewis.
The John Lewis Effect
The John Lewis annual Christmas brand advert is an awaited pinnacle of marketing and a national event. John Lewis has successfully created advertising that removes branding in favour of a well-structured narrative and emotional resonance, as a result the company has in fact created one of the most powerful and enduring brands in the UK.
John Lewis entered the world of Christmas advertising in 2007 with an advert entitled “Shadows”. The advert used a very clever way of showcasing John Lewis products, without actually selling to the audience. So, none of those emotional tugs are evident at this point.
It was not until 2013 when the bar was truly raised by the retailer. Not only was this the first foray into animation, but it’s arguably the first time that the John Lewis advert became a national event. The advert told the tale of a friendship between a bear and a hare. The bear goes into hibernation before Christmas, leaving the hare watching on as other animals exchange gifts. The hare leaves a present in the bears cave. The advert climaxes with the bear appearing over the horizon to great his friend, it’s at this point we see that the present is an alarm clock.
Universally acclaimed and a huge break in terms of style and approach from what had come before. The 2013 ad showed the company’s willingness to take risks and not stick to the script. Whilst brands have always fought to have the best and most memorable Christmas advert, we are now in an age where gaining that top spot is everything to them.
Keeping Up with The John Lewises
We’re now in a position where Coca Cola’s traditional Coca Cola truck advert. Whilst the ad has minor changes every year, it is essentially the same. Whilst this breeds familiarity and nostalgia, it risks looking dated, as it runs the same theme every year. This sticking with the status quo by Coca Cola has paved the way for some great adverts from John Lewis, Sainsbury’s and Iceland. Although it should be noted that you could argue that Iceland was more a work of brilliant PR than anything else, more on that later though.
So, what do all of these adverts have in common?
Brands are very aware that consumers are turned off by hard sales messages, instead they focus on the emotive element of the festive period. All of those really warm fuzzy feelings behind gift giving and making a loved one feel special.
John Lewis’ Christmas adverts follow a similar narrative arch and many of the same themes every year; loneliness, love, friendship and generosity. As a result, John Lewis has been intrinsically linked with Christmas even though its adverts don’t contain a sleigh bell.
Iceland have gone down a slightly different path for 2018. The company have produced an advert that they arguably knew would be banned by the Advertising Authority (ASA). Something of a Christmas first.
The animated advert sees a cute orangutan telling a small girl how his home, the rainforest, is being destroyed by humans harvesting palm oil. It ends with the heart wrenching dedication to “the 25 orangutans we lose everyday”.
Whilst Iceland repurposed something that Greenpeace had already made and advocating a contentious ethical issue is something that is being seen more and more, no other retailer has backed an issue during the Christmas trading period.
Like all good Christmas adverts, it became part of the public’s consciousness. This time not through an advertising spot, but through social media. It’s almost as if it knew it would be banned and were riding that wave.
For a company the size of John Lewis to allow such creative rein in the production of its brand films shows that the company wants to set itself apart. Whilst other companies are hot on its heels, the John Lewis Christmas advert is now the most eagerly anticipated advert of the year. This has been achieved by masking the company’s sales objectives with subtle reminders of family love and emotional nostalgia, a tactic that could be embraced by companies large and small in their marketing.
As Christmas has become more about rampant consumerism, some brands have sought to remind us that Christmas is about more than present giving. They are focusing on nostalgia, amongst other things, having the best Christmas ad gives the brand a glow, that’s one that premium establishment John Lewis has been basking in for a few years now. This glow further enhances the brand in the eyes of the public as it is perceived as wholesome, family orientated and trustworthy. It’s this trust that brands strive for as it will translate to greater sales which, let’s face it, is the end goal.