Every year we get the inevitable deluge of brands rolling out ‘their big Christmas advert’. And yet, for some of us, maybe the magic has been lost. Perhaps the pandemic and (in the UK) a cost-of-living crisis has taken some of the wind out of the sails of this festive period. Maybe the brand Christmas advert was already on its last legs before Covid-19. Whatever the case may be, we decided to ask some of the clever people in our network what they thought. Would they fall into ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘maybe’?
Elizabeth Anyaegbuna — Co-Founder of 16x9media, Join Our Table, and Bloom in Colour, and President of Bloom UK
Christmas ads are like Marmite — you either love ’em or hate ’em! Oops did I just rabbit an ad mantra? Marmite Christmas ad, maybe? We see retailers splash millions on slick, feel-good ads every year hoping we’ll get the festive fuzzies and spend. And every year, the same debates flare up — do they really make us buy more, or are they a pointless cash (less) bonfire? Can’t deny they get us lot talking though. There is an appeal to glossy ads vying for our attention. Although more edge and less gloss for me, please. And fair play, smaller brands like Afrocenchix had a go at barging in on the big player ad action too.
Still, shoppers aren’t silly. We know it’s all a sales tactic. But even the grinches must admit that soppy ad with the dragon or bouncing boxer dog gets a smile. So, are the days of big Christmas ads numbered? Maybe. Questionable expense, ROI hard to measure, cliches as thick as snow. But for now, they’re part of the seasonal experience, like tinsel and Mariah Carey. Retailers clearly think we still need that holiday ad sparkle. In these turbulent times they may just provide much-needed escapist magic to lose yourself in at Christmas. Even if it is for just 60 seconds.
Sid McGrath — UK Chief Strategy Officer at Wunderman Thompson
I’m not sure the Christmas ad is ‘dead’ but it might well be in ICU. On the one hand it’s wonderful that the industry can get carried away producing festive confections that bear little resemblance to how the brand behaves the rest of the year. God knows we need every opportunity to remind clients of our creative abilities and the value of big ideas.
However, now that ‘everyone’ finds an excuse to create something for the season, hasn’t the big Christmas ad become the convention, so there’s no competitive advantage anymore? With every supermarket selling the same food promises through borrowed-interest characters or celebrities, and almost every retailer depicting a variation of ‘joy’, surely we have to now question ‘what’s the point?’ and ‘where’s the distinction?’.
If it’s to provide a burst of sponsored entertainment then let’s do it well, brilliantly and audaciously. If it’s to smuggle in brand and product proof points with a sprinkling of glitter and ego, let’s perhaps think again and find a more original and ingenious way of doing it, rather than conforming to a new generic.
Debbie Morgan and Mairi Wilson — Creative Team at Leith
Christmas adverts are often undeniably incredible pieces of film-making. But when the sales piece is non-existent, sometimes the whole advert can feel a little off — like us marketers are just trying to trick people with a good ‘sob story’. It may seem like an easy fix to just shoehorn your product into the story but, unsurprisingly, that’s just as off-putting. We should always remind ourselves of advertising 101: authenticity can’t be written.
Perhaps we’ve all gotten a little too guilty of asking ‘what would make a truly brilliant Christmas ad?’ Instead of asking ‘what about this product would make for a truly brilliant Christmas?’
The answers can be immediate or unexpected — like this year when we applied this approach to our Lovehoney DRTV advert — but answering this question will ultimately leave you with a more genuine piece of film. One that should lead to more sales and smiles and fewer eye-rolls. Let’s save those for the bedroom.
Ben Kay — Writer, Columnist and Creative Director
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. That’s because the day after Halloween is when the deluge begins, and this year is no different: M&S, Asda and Argos all launched their Christmas ads on 1st November. Even in America they know it as Britain’s Superbowl (i.e.: the big occasion for the big ads). In 2011 an excellent John Lewis advert inspired hundreds of 60-second, heartstring-tugging copycats in the decade or so that followed, usually for supermarkets or department stores.
The anticipation surrounding these epic efforts created a cultural moment that transcended advertising and brought us a lot of excellent work. But it also brought us a lot of dross, and if we’re going to be honest, even the John Lewis ads have been slowly worsening over the years. Does that mean the Christmas ad is dead? Well, as I mentioned they are still appearing, so that’s a technical ‘no’, but are they still exciting? Are they still brilliant? Are they still creating a cultural moment that transcends advertising? That’s another question (or three).
Giles Lury — Director at The Value Engineers
No, the Christmas ad is alive and kicking, or even alive and jingling. There have always been ads that were specially created for the Christmas. The Coca-Cola lorries have been driving across snow-covered landscapes for decades, and Coke’s use of a red and white Santa dates back almost a century to 1931.
Having said that, perhaps Christmas ads had their heyday a decade ago. This was epitomised by the series of John Lewis ads starting with 2012 Snowman ad and including The bear and the hare, Monty the Penguin and Excitable Edgar. The increasing number of ads and the budgets involved, the hype (sometimes manufactured) gave them a real buzz in those years, but familiarity has bred more complacency (though not yet complaint).
One last proof point was that, in November 2022, The Guardian printed its list of top ten John Lewis Christmas ads — would they have bothered if the Christmas ad was dead?
Elaine Sosna — Head of International Marketing Planning at Lovehoney
The annual Christmas TV advert reveal remains one of the most highly anticipated moments of the festive season, and for many actually marks the start of the holiday period. They have become a staple on our TVs and inseparable from Christmastime itself.
Viewers enjoy them, anticipate them, even guess their contents, and they get people excited for the upcoming celebrations. The final three months of the year are an essential trading period for brands, and as TV delivers reach like no other channel, Christmas ads are still hugely important. It’s because of all this that we launched our first ever Christmas advert this year, showcasing the joy of giving and receiving a Lovehoney Christmas present.
Kate Gleysteen — Director of Media at PDC Brands
As a culture we’re quick to bury something once it’s no longer a leader, the most popular, or newest trend. In media we have been forecasting the end of traditional media channels, this year’s up-fronts brought the first broadcast price reduction in a non-recession year and called upon the “death of Mad Men” at the hands of the digital platforms and consumer behavior. I see this as an evolution, the same behaviors and content are now available in new platforms, as well as the traditional channels that will continue to be part of our media mix. When it comes to messaging, advertisers need to market to a more diverse consumer audience than ever before, especially in Q4 and holiday time. Brands today are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Dawali, Dia los Muertos, and many more holidays that were barely known outside of their cultures in past decades. While Christmas is still represented, it’s not the leading messaging of Norman Rockwell days; Christmas is part of the mosaic of holiday celebrations that need to be represented to reflect our diverse consumer audience.
Featured image: cottonbro studios / Pexels