We’ve had a good look at this year’s Christmas ads and created our top 5 and those that we think were close but near misses.
Perhaps a sign of these uncertain times, but there is a more than usually traditional feel to this year’s crop. Two ads most viewed on YouTube (and probably with the biggest TV budgets too) are The John Lewis/Waitrose spot and Sainsbury’s. Both go for fairy-tale-style stories set in the past. There seems to be more emphasis on feel-good than merchandise too, with very little explicit product pushing this year.
In Britain at least, previous coyness about mentioning the C-word seems to have been generally left behind. In fact, Lidl manage to set this year’s record mentioning Christmas no less than eight times in their ad. Perhaps this implies a dawning realisation among the over-woke that it might actually be slightly patronising to assume that all non-Christians are offended by the festival.
As an American production though, perhaps it is unsurprising that Amazon’s ad avoids the C-word. However, we feel it makes up for it with a very warm seasonal feel-good factor.
According to research from Kantar Millward Brown, Christmas ads have to do three things:
- Tell great stories
- Provide meaningful messaging
- Be clearly branded
The company has previously asked consumers to review TV ads, scoring each on 12 factors that are proven to motivate people to buy, and build a strong brand in the long term. These factors include ‘Involvement’, ‘Enjoyment’, ‘Persuasion’, ‘Relevance’ and ‘Different from others’.
Ad rating company System 1 has researched most of this year’s crop of ads, giving them a star rating based on emotional impact and a ‘spike rating’ that looks at brand recognition. So we have taken due note of these elements and added one in: YouTube views. The latter seems to us a very powerful indicator of the value of the creative separate from the amount of media bought for the ad.
Why? Not for its tiny YouTube viewings of 103k. But because it has the highest score for both emotional response and brand recognition. Likely produced in the US, but for international appeal, it flows beautifully. There is no complex story, but the ad manages to weave human interest in with Amazon’s signature singing parcels in a surprisingly charming way. The star of the piece is surely an actual Amazon delivery driver. The sting is her apparently making a delivery in what turns out to be a heart-warming ‘Mummy’s home’ moment with her own kids.
2. John Lewis/Waitrose
Why? Because it defies the rules. The branding doesn’t need to be overt – The John Lewis Christmas ‘ad event’ is a branded institution in its own right. Eagerly anticipated, lavishly produced, and this year – it would seem much-loved. Story-based, both humorous and with strong emotional pull, it meets the brief perfectly. The messaging is moral – exclusion, forgiveness and redemption – rather than commercial, hitting the right note in our purpose-hungry times. Plus a re-worked version of the 80’s REO Speedwagon hit from Bastille. How could that not work? It also had 7m views on YouTube even before hitting TV – arguably covering the reputed £7m cost of production even before they got started.
More 80’s pop-anthem inspired nostalgia using the Simple Minds track ‘Don’t you forget about me’ from Argos who chose to go analogue and revive the magic of seasonal catalogue browsing. It’s a simple story lifted out of the mundane by the father-daughter relationship and the drumming frenzy fantasy they share. High in both emotional impact and brand recognition it also earned a respectable half-million views on YouTube.
As we don’t have System 1 numbers for Walkers this is a bit of a wild card. So we’re going to stick our necks out and say that it really made us laugh and that has to make it rate in the emotion stakes. And as the product is clearly centre stage, can hardly lose out for brand recognition. The humour is quintessentially British – I’m sure Americans would be completely non-plussed.
As well as a C-word song, it has delicious self-parody. A British tabloid scoffed at Mariah Carey for failing to look like she really wanted to devour a Walkers crisp, but isn’t that the point? The moments of comedy seem to come from all angles – but most of all from Mariah herself. And surely anything that helps us avoid the insufferably smug Gary Lineker this Christmas has to get our vote?
According to the research people will associate this ad with Joules. And there is a blatant branded sting at the end of the ad. It scored highly with the System 1 rating. The ad is amusing and easy to watch - very much in the Wallace & Gromit tradition. It has a fairly modest 50k YouTube views, and we were intrigued to see that the same film had 130k views on the Wallace & Gromit YouTube channel. Proving perhaps that Wallace and Gromit is a bigger brand than Joules.
Only here because it doesn’t quite scrape through, and has quite a bit going for it. It is lively, fresh and inventive and makes the most of the Toy Story-style animations and Grime hit music combo. Where it fails, is that the slightly cruel humour (edgy and entertaining though it is) fails to create that Christmas feelgood factor, although it is nearly redeemed by the happy Ikea ending.
6m YouTube hits put the Sainsbury ad close to John Lewis, but another ‘close but no cigar’ for us. It scores highly on emotional appeal but seems to combine too many ideas. Elements of Dickens, the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, humour (we had to play the joke ‘Give him a fair trial’ 3 times until we got what was said) re-incarnation, ghosts, angels (Nicholas seems to return with wings), St Nicholas and Father Christmas all combine to make a slightly incoherent whole, and were we the only ones to puzzle at the wicked sweep master biting into an un-peeled orange? Odd, but maybe a joke? The branding is there and subtle, but is it Sainsbury’s enough?
So is there a formula? It looks like it. We’re happy to go with the Kantar Millward Brown system above. It makes entertainment sense and it makes marketing sense. Political uncertainty and an election looming this year seems to have focused things down even further: An eighties pop anthem, seasonal goodwill, a feelgood factor and clear but uncommercial brand referencing make the winners.
And lastly, the parody takes. We loved this Greta & Trump version
of the John Lewis ad.