Tracey Stern

Christmas Ads – UK Retailers Battle It Out

24 November 2014, Tracey Stern

I am pretty sure that had the Ten Commandments been updated for our modern era, they would have included a mandate for all clients who advertise, to make the best and most emotionally driven Christmas TV ad possible.

We seem to set our seasonal clocks by the arrival of ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me out of Here’ alongside the arrival of the Xmas TV ads – which usually go hand in hand.

Over the years, some have been jaw dropping. Some have induced feel-good emotions and some have simply missed the mark. John Lewis have set the bar over recent years, and this year’s ad is no exception with its high quality production and cute story.

I watched the new Sainsbury’s ad ‘in situ’ at the cinema at the weekend and I may be one of the only people to admit that it actually left me feeling a little flat and disappointed. I was also interested to see how many of the big brands had extended and optimised the life of their TV productions into the digital world.

Sainsbury’s Christmas Ad 2014

This film references the football match played by British & German soldiers on No Man’s Land on Christmas Day in 1914, and pays homage to many of the 100 year anniversary commemorations which have taken place this year. It is a 3 minute TV spot, and was made in partnership with the Royal British Legion and Sainsbury’s are also selling bars of chocolate depicted in the film to raise money.

However, when I go to Sainsbury’s online collateral, all I can find is a link to the ad and brief detail behind the making of the ad. Surely there would have been a rich stream of content behind the ad, the partnership and stories of the thought process behind the nicely produced TV content.

Personally, I liked the ad (rather than loved it) and of all the Xmas TV ads, this has the opportunity to live in colour beyond the TV medium, yet I believe it misses it completely.

John Lewis Christmas Ad 2014 With Monty The Penguin

This new ad has a lot to live up to after their huge success with their Xmas 2013 ad. The new ‘Monty’ film, featuring a lovelorn penguin is a beautiful piece of film which secured in excess of 16 million online views in the first four days of its release. I am not entirely sure how this bought the John Lewis products to life, or related to it in any way but I defy anyone to watch it and not be moved.

Where I think the film has excelled, is the way in which it has extended the story into digital. The star of the ad has his own Twitter feed, which already has over 33,200 followers, and is written with such gentle humour and tone, encouraging all followers of all ages to get involved. Monty even has his own dating profile (if you see the ad, you will understand why), and the John Lewis website has perfectly captured and expanded upon the ‘Monty’ story without a strong sales feel to it.

If you explore YouTube, you can find behind the scenes videos and a wealth of parodies which have taken on a life of their own. You can download the moving sound track on their Facebook page as well as sharing the Monty ‘selfies’.

Offline, you can explore Monty’s Winter Garden (in association with Samsung) in London and be involved in a more philanthropic way by adopting a penguin or improving children’s storytelling skills.

And the media strategy was equally well considered – this year eschewing the scale and glitz of the X Factor and launching instead on social media. Two posts were uploaded at 8am on the day prior to the TV launch via YouTube and Facebook’s video format having previously teased the new creative via digital outdoor formats and a bespoke partnership with Channel 4.

Apparently there were more tweets about ‘Monty’s Christmas’ in the first three hours, than the 2013 ad in 24 hours. It took just 90 minutes for #montythepenguin to top the UK trend lists, and according to John Lewis, the ad was viewed 7 million times within the first 24 hours of release, 6 million more than the 2013 ad. Of the 50k tweets measured, just shy of 100% were positive or at least neutral.

Months of careful planning and a truly integrated approach across all consumer touchpoints have absolutely paid off with a sharp increase in sales so far. In my opinion, one of the smartest, thoughtful, integrated campaigns of the last few years.

Marks & Spencer Christmas Ad 2014 #FollowTheFairies

At this point, I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of the M&S advertising but I am a long-term committed customer. I think their customer service, and both in-store and online experience is fantastic.

However, I think their latest Xmas offering falls a bit flat. Despite a fantastic soundtrack, and featuring the requisite snow and feel-good factor, it doesn’t leave me either wanting to see the ad again, or go into M&S for a Xmas shopping blow-out.

When I go online, there is little or no reference to the Xmas M&S ‘fairies’ whatsoever. Lots of sparkly gift ideas, and Xmas recipe ideas, but I have to search quite hard to find the gift finder with animated ‘fairies’.

There is even less on Twitter, where together with the other 363,000 followers, all I can find is a link to the TV ad.  I find this all a little disappointing, especially given their ground-breaking work with their food advertising, together with their integrated approach to the offline and online store experience.

Tesco Christmas Advert 2014 – Lights On

This year’s Christmas ad from Tesco features a major festive light show created by the people behind the London 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony. The ad is set to a Xmas themed version of Flashdance, and shows people getting out their Christmas decorations and builds up to a light show on the side of a store in Wigan.

The TV spot is a little underwhelming, in my opinion, especially in the light of such work from some of the retailers mentioned above. But the insight behind the TV ad is actually a very real, and lovely one.

Last year, a customer in Wigan tweeted her disappointment that her local Tesco didn’t have a Xmas hat on. So Tesco responded with a brilliant light show featured in a 2 minute piece of film.

To my mind, this totally surpasses the more forgettable Xmas film currently being shown on TV screens, with a real sense of humour and humility. When searching the Tesco digital channels, their website, Facebook page and Twitter feed make little reference to the light show, instead changing their usual strapline to ‘every little helps make Christmas’.

In summary, John Lewis wins hands down for me, as it has done everything a good campaign should do – engage, emote, and integrate across every channel but the true test will come in January when the sales figures are announced!