How the retail giants will keep filling your heart and emptying your wallet this Christmas

Dan Blake

What sparks the ‘start of Christmas’ is many different things to many different people. For more and more consumers, the festive cheer arrives at the very hint of a festive advert from our favourite brand. For me it’s the sight of a convoy of red lorries snaking through a snow-scape to the melody of “the holidays are coming” that floats my Christmas boat.

The anticipation and rumour that accompanies the ads of some of our favourite brands, such as John Lewis, Marks and Spencer and Coca-Cola, often drive greater brand awareness and loyalty than the actual adverts themselves.  In recent years, we have seen an increase in competition to create the ‘best’ Christmas advert of the year. But as consumers, what do we actually want from our Christmas adverts?

Most of us are savvy enough to realise that the main purpose of any Christmas advert is to ensure that the brand message reaches the largest audience possible and to sell products. Despite this as consumers we want more than just sales tactics from our Christmas adverts – throw in some cute animals and a festive tale with real meaning and the better the advert performs it seems. 

So, let’s take a quick look at how some of our favourite retail brands leverage emotive drivers to get us to buy more during the silly season;

John Lewis
In recent years John Lewis has left audiences counting down to the release of their advert before many of us have even dusted off our thermals. From Monty the homesick Penguin, the Lonely man on the moon, to Buster the trampolining boxer dog, John Lewis are experts at sucking us in, making us feel good and spitting us back out again, year after year. 

John Lewis’ target audience has traditionally been the middle-aged, middle-class shopper, although of late they have worked hard to be seen as attracting a younger, less-affluent consumer. This is brought out in recent Christmas adverts focusing on real-life family scenarios, such as missing loved ones or lonely relatives, although with key characters replaced or played by children or animals.

Whatever animal predicament or personal human misfortune they play out in 2017 it will, as always, be much anticipated and much admired I’m sure.

UPDATE: John Lewis 'Moz the Monster' ad went live on 10th Nov 2017 - CLICK HERE

Marks & Spencer
Traditionally Marks & Spencer target and feature their key demographic with their Christmas advert: Mums, often with a sprinkling of traditional Christmas cheer. 2016 was no different with the use of the Claus family to bring the magic of Christmas to their audience. According to The Drum, 40% of mums said they would be more likely to shop with Marks & Spencer as a result of this advert – a pretty clever strategy to try and knock John Lewis off the top spot.
If I was a betting man, I’d expect M&S to stick to this winning formula in 2017.

Also sticking to a tried and tested formula, and no doubt saving copious amounts of creative budget, Coca-Cola rolls out the Santa convoy year after year - even the picture quality is deliberately poor to add to the sense of nostalgia. 

Coca-Cola have always denied they target any specific sector, although they admit their advertising is more tailored for older people. However, with the murmurings of the 'sugar tax' and the ever more health-conscious consumer, by using the traditional trimmings of Christmas, they are targeting the kid in all of us, therefore, transcending market segments, demographics and cultural persuasions. 

2016 marked a real change in Coca-Cola’s 'the holidays are coming' strategy, As Coca-Cola’s marketing director for the UK and Ireland Aedamar Howlett explains:

"We are lucky to be a brand that is synonymous with Christmas and this position provides us with the opportunity every year to do something new and different. For the first time ever, the Coca-Cola Christmas truck tour virtually visited fans on Twitter to coincide with the return of our famous advert. All fans needed to do was use the hashtag #HolidaysAreComing on Twitter and an emoji of the iconic truck appeared."

It’s actually been said that Santa Claus’ red outfit originated from an early Coke advert. Whether true or not it embodies the traditional Christmas values Coke sees in its own brand. Interestingly, of the ads I mention, this is the only ad that features the product it’s trying to promote – not that it needs to because as soon as you hear 'the holidays are coming...' you know exactly what brand is being pushed.  

On the whole, it seems that as consumers what we want most is for our Christmas adverts to make us feel something. The spirit of Christmas for people of all faiths and none is an important family occasion where we as a society reject exploitative consumerism in favour of more meaningful connections with our nearest and dearest. Brands know this and ironically, we buy more over the season because we are sucked into the belief that these retail brands are subliminally helping us to connect with each other through their marketing. 

But does it make a difference to these brands' revenue?
A 2016 poll by suggested that as consumers 69% of us feel Christmas TV advertising has no impact whatsoever on where we choose to shop. However, compare this to John Lewis, whose Christmas ad campaigns over the past four years have fuelled an average 16% lift in festive sales. The number of festive shoppers in John Lewis stores has also climbed more than 50% from 0.9m to 1.4m between 2013 and 2015.

Recent figures are hard to come by, but in 2012 Coca-Cola revenue at Christmas grew to over £185m – to put that into perspective it is nearly double the size of the combined Christmas Turkey and Mince Pie markets!

"It’s difficult to look beyond the fact that more and more is being spent on movie-like advert production, be it through clever marketing tactics or warm and fuzzy nostalgia, the biggest brands have spotted the commercial gain to be had in tugging at our heartstrings by telling poignant stories and becoming memorable in the process."

As consumers, no one wants to be pushed into a store to do their Christmas shopping – they want to believe it was a choice to be made, and above all, they want to believe in the true spirit of Christmas.

Anyway, it’s October… the holidays are not yet coming…

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