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Brand purpose is for life, not just for Christmas

As companies continue to spend millions in the race to create the best Christmas ad, we look at whether these ads are a true reflection of those brands and what they stand for.

I for one eagerly await the release of the Christmas products every year - the festive coffee cups, the bumper tubs of Christmas chocolates, the Spotify playlists (which I get banned from playing in the Pull office until December at the earliest… scrooges), and of course, the Christmas TV ads.

So, what about this year’s contenders?

2018’s offerings are treating us to talking carrots, Elton John and a banned orangutan to name a few.

But what do this year’s ads say about these brands? Do these Christmas messages fit the company’s overall brand purpose and values, or have the shoehorned in some festive references for the sake of it? Ultimately, will people buy more Aldi products due to Kevin the Carrot?

Christmas marketing campaigns often play off a set of common themes - nostalgia, sense of community, comedy, and toe-warming sentiment seem consistent themes in order to create memorable, and at times, twee, feelings to the consumer.

Aldi have decided to leverage the comedy route this year with Kevin the Carrot – a talking carrot that challenges an evil parsnip and drives a very nostalgia-inducing red Christmas lorry. This character is funny, cute and would appeal to a wide audience – but what does this Christmas strategy say about Aldi as a brand?

Aldi have three core values; Consistency, Simplicity and Responsibility – including principles such as fairness, honesty, openness, service orientation and friendliness. Ultimately, they are saying that as a brand they are reliable, have clear orientation and are committed to its people, customers, and the environment.

Aldi leverage a down-to-earth tone of voice and their adverts tend to be humorous in nature which certainly leverages the “friendliness” aspect of their values, but have they decided to adopt a cute character in this year’s Christmas advert for another reason? Children are an important demographic to remember when marketing as they have significant power in their influence over their parent’s purchasing decisions. A lot of companies use cutesy characters in order to leverage this – car insurance companies, energy companies, companies that are not selling children’s products, yet they use characters to leverage children’s purchasing power. This not only influences parents’ buying choices, but also acts to build brand loyalty over time, so when these children grow-up they already have a sense of brand recognition and loyalty to these brands. So perhaps there is more to Kevin the Carrot than first meets the eye!

One of this year’s ads that seems to break this cycle is the banned Iceland advert. Although an animated ad with a cute character, Iceland’s ad was deemed ‘too political’ by TV advertising authorities. The story of an orphaned orangutan whose home has been destroyed by deforestation due to palm oil production, certainly pulls at the heart strings, but is it too controversial to show?

Albeit it non-Christmassy in nature, it remains memorable due to the context of the ad and leaves the viewer with a sense that Iceland is actually doing something good in actively reducing their impact on the environment, and leaves the viewer questioning what other supermarkets are doing in their environmental efforts. As part of their brand strategy, Iceland focuses on “Our Power for Good” which essentially means that they are committed to “doing the right thing” across their business; whether that be in the supply chain (such as not using palm oil in their products), in the way they treat their people and customers, respect for the environment, and supporting communities. With these values in mind, it seems consideration to their brand purpose and key messages have been taken into account when creating this year’s Christmas communications. 

In contrast to Iceland’s environmental message, the eagerly awaited John Lewis & Partners ad focusses on Elton John’s life, set in reverse to the tune of Your Song. Again, not overtly Christmassy in nature, some may see this advert as a narcissistic portrayal of a celebrity figure, but it is sprinkled with a sense of nostalgia and enough heart-warming cuteness to keep it sweet.

What does this say about John Lewis & Partner’s brand strategy? What does paying a reported £5 million to feature a celebrity in their ad say about them? The John Lewis Partnership’s key purpose is “the happiness of all its members”- so perhaps this light-hearted ad does fit with their brand purpose - it makes you smile at least!

In order to create an integrated Christmas campaign that spans both online and offline communication streams, John Lewis have kitted out their Oxford Street store with room sets mimicking the Christmas ad – there is a dressing room, recording studio, and living room. There is also a piano where shoppers have the opportunity to take photos – an opportunity for John Lewis to source some user generated content if customers choose to share their images on social media. A further 14 John Lewis stores across the UK will also have Yamaha pianos for shoppers to play, so consideration of a fully integrated experience was clearly a focus constructing this year’s campaign.

This year’s advert does seem to be a step away from John Lewis’ normal festive advert - when discussing last year’s Moz the Monster ad, Craig Inglis, John Lewis & partner’s Customer Director, said: “It’s true to say in terms of some of the resonance and brand sentiment it wasn’t quite at the same level we had seen before. It just felt like a point to turn slightly left and have a fresh take on Christmas and at the same time stay true to the brand”. There appears to be mixed feelings in response to this year’s ad, but nevertheless, we all seem to be discussing it which can only be a good thing for brand awareness!

So, what do these Christmas ad examples tell us about seasonal marketing? There is not one identifiable thing that makes seasonable marketing naughty or nice - ultimately, if people perceive your brand to be trustworthy, and you keep a consistent brand purpose and message, then consumers will continue support your business regardless of your seasonal marketing strategy as they have bought in to your overall business values (talking carrot, or no talking carrot!).

Posted 26 November 2018 by Imogen Farnan