A rangtan, a plug and Elton John walk into a bar… it must be Christmas, right?

Lauren Palmer

Whether you like them or not, with less than five weeks to go, our TVs are awash with Christmas adverts. From the iconic Coca-Cola truck rolling across our screens to the highly anticipated John Lewis spectacular, it doesn’t really feel like the holiday season until the ad war is in full swing.

Whilst I firmly believe you shouldn’t listen to Christmas songs until December 1st, I am a big fan of the adverts, but I have to admit I feel conflicted about the collection we’ve been given this year. Whilst some of the adverts themselves don’t strike me as having the same originality and impact we’ve grown accustomed to, the marketing around a few has stood out.

Let’s start with the big hitter and one that really has me torn: John Lewis.

The retail giant was a little late to the party this year, releasing its contender on November 15th, five days after its normal release date.

John Lewis’ ad, titled The Boy & The Piano, tells the true story of how a Christmas present – a piano belonging to his grandmother – went on to inspire Elton John’s iconic music career. The story works backwards chronologically from the present day, through monumental highlights from his life in music, to the moment he received the present from his mum as a young child.

The ad echoes a simple, heart-warming Christmas message; “some gifts are more than just a gift.” I do like the idea behind the ad, and as a massive Elton John fan I feel I should love it, but I can’t help thinking John Lewis has upset its winning formula.

The creators have broken their tradition of having a stripped back cover as the music score - not to mention that “Your Song” already featured in their 2010 Christmas ad, A Tribute to Givers. This year’s ad doesn’t seem as emotionally charged as previous years and I think this is in part due to the change in music. Despite a reported campaign-wide budget of a whopping £10 million, it doesn’t seem to match up to the highly praised ads that preceded it. In all honesty, the 2018 advert seems more like a trailer for Rocket Man.

Interestingly, Adam & EVE DDB, the creative agency behind the John Lewis ad, have taken a very different tact in the Waitrose Christmas ad. The food retailer’s own festive campaign kicked off earlier this month with a series of six 30-second spots rather than a hero film.

Xmas 1

Too Good To Wait

We are treated to the first ever co-branded Christmas TV advert with the latest tongue-in-cheek release from the series, which shows a young girl encouraging her family to watch the John Lewis advert starring Elton John. However, as the music starts, the parents take charge of the remote, fast forwarding the advert in a rush to eat dessert. It works perfectly with the campaign theme “Too Good To Wait” and is a clever nod that should win over anyone disappointed by the John Lewis ad this year.

On top of the clever co-marketing, I also think John Lewis has done well in building anticipation of the ad (what a difference five days makes!) and have found a creative way to get the audience involved in the story whilst capitalising on the investment. The brand’s extravagant budget also covered renaming their flagship store on London’s Oxford Street, which was changed ahead of the advert’s release to simply read ‘John’ and creating a 2000 square foot experiential space on the 3rd floor for the festive season, allowing customers to explore the set, listen to recordings and take photos at the piano.

Speaking of signs – even though it isn’t a television advert, I must make a special mention to Greggs who expertly highjacked the iconic Fenwick Newcastle Christmas window display with their selfie-inspired reversed signs.

Now the other advert that has me torn – and bear with me here – is the Iceland Christmas advert.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the advert itself and the thought provoking poem is fantastic at highlighting the destruction caused for palm oil, except it was all a little too familiar to a few of our team at TBT Marketing. After a little digging, we confirmed our suspicions – the advert was originally released by Greenpeace (who are known for causing a stir around Christmas time) back in August, no mention of Iceland anywhere to be seen. The banned Christmas advert uses the exact same animation, shot for shot, with the closing title cards not so subtly changed to include Iceland. It is a smart move by the supermarket. Given that the aim of the advert is to convince you to rally behind this worthwhile cause, they may well have suspected it would likely be banned and Iceland positioned itself to take advantage of its virality. Not only that, its managed to use this major retail season as an opportunity to leverage awareness for the campaign even though it is not innately Christmassy.

All great, except I can’t shake the feeling that they’ve shifted the focus. In fairness to Iceland, its #NoPalmOilChristmas hashtag is central to the campaign and achieving an impressive reach which is only increasing. Using TalkWalker, one of the world's leading social data intelligent tools, we can see the Iceland hashtag has generated 1.3K mentions and a 2.3M reach in the last 7 days, which is more than a 650% increase on the previous period. They have also removed palm oil from Iceland's own labels, yet it still supplies a cornucopia of brands that do use palm oil. What’s more, the message seems to have been distorted and we are now asked to focus on the banned element and sign a petition to get the ad back on TV, but the original petition established by Greenpeace to call for all big brands to stop using palm oil has taken a back seat.

There is definitely some effective marketing at work here and ultimately, Iceland is raising awareness for a very worthy cause, but it does leave a sour taste.

On a lighter note, let’s talk Sainsbury’s!

Personally, this has been the shining star for me so far. Sainsbury’s advert, The Big Night, is full of the feel-good factor with a glitzy and theatrical take on the classic school nativity play, driven by The Greatest Showman’s director Michael Gracey.

We follow a young girl dressed as a star as she nervously steps on stage before giving the audience a predictably knock-out rendition of the New Radicals’ classic 90s song, ‘You Get What You Give’, which perfectly epitomises the theme of this year’s campaign: ‘we give all we’ve got for the ones we love’.

From the setting that is familiar to us all, to the countless laughs - #pluglife – Sainsbury’s ad definitely delivers on its aim to “capture the passion, emotion and excitement of the festive season.”

Overall, we’ve been treated to an interesting array with brands employing different tactics when it comes to festive marketing. Whilst some of the ads themselves haven’t seemed as original or to have made such an impact as in previous years, the marketing around the campaigns has been unique.

If you don’t want to end up on the naughty list next year, then reach out to TBT Marketing – we can help you create magical campaigns all year round.

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