It’s the 5th of November. A spectacular time of year where concoctions of colours explode across the dark skies. Yet, here we are, bursting with excitement to commence with the Christmas festivities and pop on our ugly novelty jumpers. The highly anticipated release of this year’s John Lewis Christmas advert has (for me, at least) signified the start of the festive season wonderfully. In addition to pigs in blankets, Christmas markets, really rubbish family games and consuming way too many alcoholic drinks – the magical Christmas adverts that bless our screens each year have become part of tradition for many.
Christmas campaigns are the ultimate marketing tool for many of the UK’s leading retailers, many of which spark an incredible amount of consumer excitement around this time of year. It goes without saying that there are a spectacular number of unique ingredients that make up a Christmas advert, all of which are perfectly blended to evoke a variety of emotions and encourage consumers to spend their pennies. From beautiful tear-jerkers and relatable Christmas storylines, to the introduction of beloved cartoon characters – these popularised mini feature films are the pinnacle of seasonal marketing.
What makes an effective Christmas Campaign?
Before I go on to talk about this year’s adverts, it helps to understand how these adverts find success and what makes them so incredible. Since the iconic red Coca-cola truck pioneered the Christmas advert craze back in 1995, notable companies have invested heavily in ensuring that their festive-themed advertisements are impactful on sales and airtime, memorable for years to come and completely original amongst the pool of other adverts. In recent years, Christmas campaigns have been extremely competitive between brands – a skillful battle to gain the most attention, social shares and obtain the highest level of sales over the festive season. When it comes to deciphering the champion of seasonal advertising, John Lewis is an undisputed winner year upon year. Through their powerful storylines, relatable characters, ingenious cinematography and complete distinctiveness – John Lewis’ creative approach to advertising is unrivaled. But what components make up a successful campaign?
I know this sounds malicious, but without the clever emotional manipulation of consumers, brands will find it hard to be successful. Provoking an emotional response from consumers is a crucial element of effective marketing, with research suggesting that 90% of purchase decisions are made through emotion. For this reason, emotion has become a significant attribute of Christmas adverts. John Lewis is renowned for their ability to evoke a plethora of emotions from viewers through their highly relatable characters, soft, acoustic soundtracks and heart-warming storylines. Essentially, emotional power drives discussion, social shares and in the end – those all-important sales.
A successful Christmas advert always resonates with the varying depictions of the festive holiday and explores the very meaning of what Christmas means to each community. Many people relate to the concepts and events portrayed in these adverts, such as indulging in delicious food, cosy cuddles on the couch, giving gifts to loved ones and sharing precious time together. All in all, the themes that are prevalent that continue to tug at the nation’s heartstrings include the likes of loneliness, togetherness, kindness, generosity and love. However, these significant themes are carefully represented through cute animals, aliens and even vegetables – as crazy as that sounds, it works. The nation has been known to fall head-over-heels in love with personified penguins and carrots, which exemplifies just how impactful a 2 minute clip can be when representation is accurate and relatable.
During the digital age, a Christmas campaign finds the best success when it spans across multiple platforms. A creative approach to social media campaigns is the key to creating a buzz, gaining attention and staying ahead of the race to obtain the title as the best brand for Christmas marketing. A simple hashtag can be massively impactful, evidenced by John Lewis’ 2015 #ManOnTheMoon campaign. This heartfelt advert told the beautiful story of a lonely man on the moon, identified through a telescope by a little girl at Christmas. The advert and correlating social media campaigns raised awareness, alongside Age UK, around the loneliness felt by the elderly during the festive season. The campaign gained an incredible response from Twitter users, where the designated hashtag was used more than 55,000 times in the first 24 hours following release. In 2021, Christmas marketing is much more than just a 2 minute clip, it has to be a multi-platform campaign to gain the best results.
So, which adverts have proven to tick the boxes, represent the season well and sell the Christmas spirit best in 2021?
No matter what the ingredients, the recipe will always pan out differently depending on the chef, which is why each brand depicts Christmas in a variety of ways, in hope of resonating with a range of cultures, families and circumstances. Let’s look into the best (in my opinion) festive adverts for how the brands best portray Christmas, trigger a strong emotional response and exemplify impeccable marketing skills!
1. John Lewis
As we have come to expect from John Lewis, their message prioritises spreading the spirit of Christmas over the obvious plugging of merchandise. This year’s offering continues in this vein with a Christmas seen and shared through the eyes of a child. A young boy enjoys a traditional Christmas with his large family – decorations, turkey dinner, mince pies, laughter & fun – then sneaks away to share the spoils with a visitor from another planet who watches with wonder as fairy lights are hung across a tree. In true John Lewis style, an old song gets a new spin, with 80’s classic, Together in Electric Dreams. The song is joyful and sentimental – perfectly complimenting the advert. As is always the case, there have been some negative views on this year’s Christmas contribution, some opponents have drawn allusions to Brexit and some say the alien could symbolise new visitors to Britain. But, the message is clear at the end of the advert – it’s about rekindling the unique joy of a first Christmas. John Lewis’ intention is to represent the inclusive, diverse society we live in, while conveying the message that the true spirit of Christmas is one of togetherness, family, loved ones, quality time, sharing and caring.
I don’t recall seeing a Disney Christmas advert before, but this is a wonderful, emotive advert, representative of society today. The story centres on a ‘blended’ family with a new Step-Dad joining his partner and her 2 children for Christmas. The mini-feature film shows his attempt to navigate existing family traditions and create new ones. The building and subsequent accidental demolition of a gingerbread house is symbolic of the new home they are trying to create together and the difficulties encountered along the way but the final image of a bigger, brighter, more beautiful house highlights the positives of having an extended family. What impresses me and many other viewers the most about this one is the deviance from ‘traditional family’ and how, in 2021, this represents a large proportion of society.
The new Argos Christmas advert is a gloriously positive and humorous response to last year’s ‘difficulties’ with every Christmas activity exaggerated and amplified to the max. Gone are the restrictions of last year where we had to steer clear of elderly relatives and have smaller celebrations at home – this year the full family are waiting at the door to share a slice of turkey! A myriad of families are shown enjoying all the festivities and amazing gifts in the most exaggerated way possible. The message is ‘Baubles to last year’ and I can’t help but agree. With so many tear-jerker adverts, a little bit of humour is always appreciated at Christmas!
At first, we may be forgiven for thinking this is a shameless attempt to get everyone to buy new gadgets for Christmas when we are shown a number of people checking mobiles, tablets and smart watches, only to be told that actually, they’re donating these products for those who do not have the luxury of an annual device upgrade. Vodafone’s Christmas advert is short, sweet and subverts the materialistic obsession with new gifts for Christmas by tackling the growing problem of digital poverty in Britain. Vodafone invites us to ‘Give the gift of connection’ this Christmas – if you donate your unwanted devices, they’ll add sim cards, loaded with data and minutes which will then be donated on. It is part of their commitment to connect the one million people living without internet access. Following two years of financial downturn, increasing homelessness and growing unemployment, it’s a welcome change to see this digital giant tackle an important issue instead of encouraging us to spend £500+ on the latest iPhone! Avoiding the typical, commercial Christmas advert and focussing on things that truly matter has proven year upon year to be a successful marketing direction.
You may have sensed a theme in the previous adverts. Overall, I think we should steer clear of glorifying splashing the cash at Christmas, given what so many people have been through recently, so I’ve chosen to focus on adverts that take us back to the true meaning of Christmas, and that is quality time with loved ones. However, I’ve bucked the trend with my final choice. M&S have released two Christmas adverts this year but my favourite of the two is Percy Pig’s first feature. Percy is voiced with perfect child-like enthusiasm by Spiderman actor, Tom Holland, who is visited at the bottom of the Christmas tree by fairy, Dawn French. There’s no modesty in this advert, it’s all about showcasing the delicious delights synonymous with M&S’s slogan “this is not just Christmas food, this is M&S Christmas food”. The food looks enticing, Dawn French is cheerful as ever, and who couldn’t love Percy Pig?
So, with Christmas in full swing (don’t tell me it’s only November – I don’t care), it’s time to pull out the festive pyjamas, make a hot chocolate and enjoy countless Christmas movies. Thank you kindly to all of the retailers listed above for beautifully signaling the start of the holiday season – we appreciate you.