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It seems like an age ago that we were all sat round the dinner table for our Christmas meals, and even longer ago that many of the top brands and retailers were putting out their Christmas adverts – so fondly pored over, criticised and adored by the media and general public in relatively equal measure.
Back in November, the Advertising Association predicted a record £6 billion would be spent on Christmas advertising in 2017, stating that spend on ads has jumped nearly 40% in seven years. These are huge numbers and it’s worth noting that Christmas ad launches have become somewhat of an event in the recent past.
For years, the highly anticipated Coca-Cola Christmas adverts were the first signs that the festive period was under way. But the times are changing. More and more brands are looking to grab a share of voice in an increasingly competitive market. From supermarkets such as Marks & Spencer and Tesco, to retailers like Boots and Argos, the pressure to reach and engage with an audience against the backdrop of competing ‘superpowers’ is enormous.
So, as our memories of Christmas dinner fade along with our New Year’s resolutions, I’m reflecting on which advertisers delivered the real crackers of 2017 – and what brands should put on next year’s Christmas list.
Recipe for festive advertising success
You might think that £6 billion spent for Christmas is excessive, but it does in fact paint an accurate picture of the state of play of competitive advertising. In truth, brands can’t afford to not have a slice of the Christmas cake. And they need to get in there early.
This seems to be chiefly because of the shifting consumer mindset; brands are recognising that people want to plan earlier and retailers are reflecting this by releasing their Christmas adverts nearly two months before Christmas Day.
But it’s not just about timing that makes a great Christmas ad memorable. There are other ingredients, too; the concept needs to be creative, the execution seamless and the message relevant. When marketers point out that the best adverts have ‘universal truth’ in them, it can be misunderstood. ‘Universal truth’, for me, is simply being empathetic and understanding – and there’s no better time to be those than at Christmas.
Take Sky Cinema’s Christmas ad as an example; their advert is built around the iconic film ‘The Sound of Music’, telling the story of a mother and daughter, showing the Christmases they have spent together over the course of 25 years. This was underpinned by a new premiere (a blockbuster, family movie or Christmas classic) added every day over the Christmas period, highlighting the bond films can bring to families in the festive season.
They’ve added all the right ingredients.
The enduring power of TV
While the Sky Cinema campaign was present across cinemas, OOH (Out-Of-Home) and online/newspapers, TV was very much the driving force behind its success, with the advert launching in prime viewing spots during television programmes such as The X Factor, England v Germany, England v Brazil, family favourite soap Coronation Street and the opening night of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!
To this day, TV still remains an incredibly attractive proposition for advertisers. Why? Because it works; according to Warc, media agencies expect TV costs to rise in 2018 with analysis of more than 600 case studies showing that effective big budget campaigns of more than $10m have allocated almost two-thirds of their budget to TV advertising.
The power of TV, combined with the familial nature of gathering round the sofa at Christmas, are why brands are prepared to invest in this medium during this period. Many brands have also invested in ‘blipverts’ – 5-second teaser adverts – across major TV channels to promote their festive advert as a means to generate buzz for their campaign.
Challenging the order
It’s easy to forget that YouTube is still a massive driver of awareness for many brands at Christmas. The company released a ‘top 10 festive ads in 2017’ based on algorithms that factored in organic and paid views, watch time and audience retention. It probably won’t surprise many to find that retailer John Lewis came out on top by a country mile, with 9.6m views, as it continues to cement its perception as the Christmas ad to watch out for. And this was all despite a mixed reception from marketers and consumers alike!
John Lewis may not have its own way for long though, as other retailers get savvier with their creative and commercial execution. Marks & Spencer’s Paddington and The Christmas Visitor campaign, second on YouTube’s list of most viewed ads, partnered with Paddington Bear on the launch of the new instalment in the series – to popular acclaim.
Sainsbury’s – another stalwart of Christmas advertising – came third on the list, despite a scaling back of its Christmas ad spend. It’s fair to argue that Sainsbury’s could still be dining off its 2014 First World War-themed advert, one of the most memorable in recent memory:
In 2017, Tesco bucked the trend of releasing one Christmas advert. Instead, its ‘Everyone’s Welcome’ campaign was composed of a five-part series, a collection of short stories showing that the festive season is open to all people no matter their religion, race or creed.
What’s next for Christmas advertising?
As brand marketers and creatives pore over what’s worked well and what hasn’t last year (ROI, execution, creative execution, etc), you can bet they’ve already got Christmas 2018 on the brain.
The intense market competition – particularly within retail – and the rise in high-budget advertising campaigns, means the spending won’t slow down any time soon. As more brands and retailers vie for a bigger TV and digital share each year, standing out from the crowd remains imperative to a successful Christmas campaign.
Will brands veer towards more of a ‘shock factor’ to generate PR? Will some supermarkets share a Christmas advert? Will retailers continue down the traditional route of television advertising, despite digital overtaking overall ad spend? Will we see the first Christmas advert in October?
I look forward to comparing notes this time next year…
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