Not sure when John Lewis’s Christmas adverts took on the eager anticipation aura of Budweiser’s US Clydesdale commercials, but Aldi’s ‘Kevin the Carrot watches John Lewis’ spot spoofs this phenomenon beautifully.
This year’s John Lewis advert dropped a week later than expected. ‘Buster the Boxer’ features bouncing foxes, badgers, hedgehogs, squirrels and, of course, Buster on a trampoline intended for a very cute little girl, ending with the tagline, ‘Gifts that everyone will love’. A full 360o surround sound campaign (in store, online, social media) goes with it, including behind the scenes explanations, and a percentage of related plush toy sales will go to The Wildlife Trusts.
Perhaps I’m just a Grinch, but this year’s Christmas adverts are, for the most part, far from impressive with respect to their primary purpose – driving purchase. Most seem to have lost track of trying to drive business for the sake of brand image building or entertainment. Many are jumping on the ‘buy our featured character’ plush toy bandwagon, with little regard for whether the ad will drive further purchase from their broader assortment.
So for better or for worse, here is a rundown of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly to date.
NotontheHighStreet with its ‘Magic is Real’ focuses on selling the contribution its 5,000 elves can make to anyone’s gift giving. Featuring a number of elves and their products in the making, it has subtle humour in all the right places (look for the delivery van’s registration plate, the reindeer out the window, and some of the ears). Beautifully shot, it is a joy to watch (repeatedly) and very likely to drive custom. Well done!
Currys/PCWorld’s ‘Get it Right’ picks up from last year’s ‘Spare the Act’ campaign with Jeff Goldblum (though sadly no Goldblum this year). It focuses on the insight that we all drop some very unsubtle hints about what we want, but these films take that to the extreme with their vignettes. The result is highly amusing. And bonus for the advertiser – they’re also focus on the products they sell!
Vodafone’s ‘Bigger and Better’ is outstanding. It punches all the buttons – clear branding, product relevance, terrific product performance in a torture test situation and potential to tug at heart strings when a mate travelling to join up with friends for the holidays gets stuck in some snow bound forsaken place when his bus breaks down. But, his phone works – with an audio visual link, he (and many of the passengers on the bus) joins in a game of charades, miming out his clues in the aisle of the packed bus. Amusing, entertaining and bound to drive business.
M&S’s ‘Christmas with love from Mrs Claus’ is terrific. In a major departure from the strutting models of yesteryear (adopted by House of Fraser this year), the advert uses subtle humour (check out the chopper’s tail number), discreet product placement (bet the glittery red trainers and red coat dress sell out in a flash), sibling rivalry and wives ‘managing’ husbands to insightfully remind us that Christmas and gifting are about thoughtfulness and sharing with the ones we love this time of year. Lovely to watch again and again, and very likely to drive business.
Burberry’s ‘holiday’ ad celebrates its 160th anniversary with an all-star cast laden ‘bio pic’ short - The Tale of Thomas Burberry: 160 years in the making. With a variety of historical references (Ernest Shackleton’s expeditions, Betty Kirby Green’s record breaking flight from London to Cape Town and, of course, the currently de rigueur reference to World War I – ‘trench’ coat, get it?) and gratuitous kissing scenes, this beautifully shot film celebrates Burberry’s invention and uses of gabardine, despite its somewhat brooding title character not helped by the score. Though a very brief mandatory Christmas shot is included somewhat randomly, it is not clear why this film would necessarily be a Christmas ad, nor why it should drive traffic to their stores or website this time of year (that is the role of advertising, yes?).
Harrods' animation short, A Very British Bear, on the other hand, is all Christmas with a cute bear (Hugh), Santa Claus, elves, Rudolf and the sleigh. After a nasty elf casts a freezing spell on Harrods', Hugh climbs to the rooftop so he can call on Santa at the North Pole to save them. The film is a cute, complete story and likely to appeal to children. Of course a Hugh the Bear plush toy will be available for sale and there is to be a Very British Bear Tale storybook as well. Perhaps Harrods' is hoping to replicate John Lewis’ sell out of Monty the Penguin within hours of its 2014 Christmas ad launch. It is questionable whether this advert appeals to Harrods' normal target audience and whether it will drive footfall, despite its entertainment value.
Is House of Fraser’s ‘Christmas is Coming [for You]’ Halloween meets Christmas? A modernised ‘Thriller’? Indistinguishable from M&S type ads of the past.
Perhaps considered traitorous, but this year’s John Lewis advert could be classed among the Bad, from a driving sales perspective. It is cute to watch, but is the trampoline an example of ‘gifts that everyone will love’ (ie., buy)? On the entertainment front, A-level student Nick Jablonka’s ‘The Snow Globe’ ‘fake’ John Lewis Christmas advert is far better, in terms of repeat watchability, and its ‘appreciate the moments’ sentiment is so much more in tune with the season.
Waitrose’s ‘Home for Christmas’ uses a robin’s challenge filled flight home to convince us we’d go to any length for one of their mince pies. Beautifully shot, but hardly convincing. And, they neglect to pay-off the Wildlife Trusts support parent John Lewis is pushing!
TK Maxx’s ‘The Sing-Song’ is puzzling. With a tag line of ‘surprising gifts at surprising prices’, it is not clear what they are advertising. The clothes? The fairy lights? If I wasn’t familiar with TK Maxx, I wouldn’t know why to shop there.
Harvey Nicks ‘Britalia’ or ‘The Italians Aren’t Happy with Christmas’. The almost parody-like focus on high-end luxury brands is certainly consistent with Harvey Nicks’ brand, but the advert has the potential to be so annoying after watching it once, it is more likely to draw the dissing reaction ‘that’s for the posh gits’ than ‘I want one, too’.
Argos ‘Get More out of Giving’. I don’t get it. Colourful Yetis skating through town. About speed of delivery? I’m sure they could do a brisk business of rainbow coloured Yeti plush toys, but anything else is doubtful.
Sainsbury’s departs from prior years’ popular ‘Mog’, to bring us a tedious, repetitive 3D printing enamoured spot in ‘The Greatest Gift’ which tries to tell us ‘the greatest gift I can give is me’ – okay, then, not shopping at Sainsbury’s for gifts or food.
For the most part, the winners this year are the production houses. But regardless of whether Christmas adverts are loved or hated, whether they drive sales or merely attempt to build the brand, what they do accomplish is getting us talking about them. And we will be talking about them, beyond this week and even again next year when the next batch drops and start our analysis all over again.
By Debra Marmor, Liveryman, The Worshipful Company of Marketors and Managing Director of DSM KnowHow Ltd.