Is an ad for life

or just for Christmas?

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Mark Coster

Founder of Pixooma

When it comes to Christmas advertising, retailers have always been intensely competitive. Their budgets appear almost bottomless, as they tried to outdo each other with creativity stretched to the max. Added to that, don’t forget all those new characters who have been introduced to us over the years – Kevin the Carrot, Heathrow Bears, Nicholas the Sweep, the Christmas Fairy, and of course who can forget those lovely night-time animals on a trampoline?

With brand awareness, positioning and portrayal of a positive attitude towards the festivities cited as the main reasons behind such extravagance, I wonder if in these leaner times, it’s acceptable to still to deliver such expensive productions?

As the Guardian said “It’s a Christmas advert, but as if written by Julia Davis and directed by David Lynch”.

Expectation vs. reality

As consumers we all expect these ads, in fact in many cases the retailers are keen for us to get involved earlier and earlier each year with emails reminding us about what’s coming from October onwards. But surely given everything else currently happening in the world, it’s time for retailers to balance expectations against the reality of a reduction in household festive spend.

After all, is it right when we are all struggling with increased food and fuel prices, higher mortgage rates and less disposable income to see our favourite retailers spending millions on a Christmas ad, portraying happy, smiley faces in an almost utopic world? And then there’s the shelf-life issue, it’s extremely limited for obvious reasons.

And I can’t remember what the company was (so it failed there), but is it just me that found the advert where an entire family seem to have all bought each other diamond jewellery a bit much, given the cost of living crisis?

The best and worse festive ads

But is the budget an indicator of quality/success? Probably not, given some of the terrible campaigns over the years. So I thought I’d do a bit of research and remind myself of all those previous adverts. And so, below is just my view on things. You will have your own I am sure, but a word of warning: if you decide to take a look for yourself you may lose a few hours down a Youtube rabbit hole!

Asda 2012 – Christmas doesn’t happen by magic. I have to say that I had no real issue with this advert generally, but I can understand why it caused a lot of controversy. Lots of people complained that it seemed to suggest women should (or do) do all the work, and it made the men (and boys) look totally lazy and useless. Plus, the tagline was patronising and inappropriate. “Behind every great Christmas there’s mum, and behind every great mum, there’s Asda.”

Tesco 2007 – Secret Santa/The Perfect Christmas. A tale of two halves here. The Spice Girls were never going to be lauded as great actors, but in ‘Secret Santa’ they managed to create a fun and light-hearted, lovably-silly advert. The other half of the campaign was a bit annoying though. In ‘The Perfect Christmas’ they treated us to some stilted acting as they bickered over what they should have for Christmas Lunch, and afterwards it’s more of the same when more arguing ensues over presents.

John Lewis 2007 – Shadows. Costing an estimated £6m, this minimalist ad featured a group of people dressed in grey and a CGI robin who used random objects including a TV and lamp to create a shadow that looks like a girl with a dog. It’s pretty leftfield, quite stark, and not that festive in all honesty, but it was a smart way to show their range of products and I have to say I quite liked it.

Mr Kipling 2003 – Nativity. know that Christmas is a time for glitter, cheesiness and schmatlz, but I do like it when brands do something a little different. So, it definitely won’t be everyone’s taste (and I can say that with certainty as the company very quickly removed it from the schedules after it became one of the most complained about adverts for decade!), but I did like the dark sense of humour in their ‘Nativity’ ad. As the Guardian said “It’s a Christmas advert, but as if written by Julia Davis and directed by David Lynch”. You have been warned, don’t blame me if you seek out and don’t like it…

Morrisons 2003 – The Truth. This tries to show a different portrayal of Christmas with a bit more realism, rather than those annoying perfect-coiffed, perfectly-dressed, perfectly-behaved people in their ‘perfect home’. It manages to bring a light-hearted approach, and still delivers a delicious slice of cheesiness at the the end. And for some reason I particlularly liked the visual gag with the cupboard doors 🙂

K-Mart 2013 (Joe Boxers) - Show Your Joe. This is an American brand so wasn’t shown here, and I am sure some people won’t approve, but I liked it’s silliness, it’s cheekiness and it’s simplicity.

Marks and Spencer 2013 – Mrs Claus. I don’t recall this one, but it keeps turning up in lists of ‘Greatest Christmas Ads’ so I took a look. And I have to say it works rather well. I think it tried a variation on the Asda campaign approach from the top of this list, but handles it much better. However for anyone like me, who had previously seen the actress playing Mrs Claus in the incredibly darkly-comic ‘Ozark’ , it was quite a surprise to see her as a kind and cuddly character!

In the digital age, when online sales have taken over from more traditional shopping habits, surely, it’s only a matter of time before these big production Christmas TV ads decline in popularity and perhaps even die out. In fact, many Generation Z and Millennials, who are less brand loyal, look to find the cheapest price/best value, rather than buying from familiar vendors. If the Christmas ads are on the way out, will you miss them, or do you think that the enjoyment, hype and excitement that they are rumoured to bring has its place?

And what are your best/worst Christmas ads of all time?

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