Christmas Comes Early for Propeller

Propeller decked the halls this year for our ‘Anatomy of a Christmas Ad’ turbine event, where we organised for a panel of industry experts from across the creative sector to discuss the current crop of festive campaigns, and speculate on the future of the ever-growing seasonal industry showcase. It was held in the screening rooms of our client MPC Advertising.

Marketing Week News Editor Sarah Vizard chaired the Christmas conversation and was joined by Dino Myers-Lampty, Managing Director of Mullenlowe Mediahub, Dr. Jane Leighton, Director of Consumer Neuroscience at Nielsen, Tim Phillips, Managing Director of MPC Advertising and Will Thacker, Creative Director at 18 Feet & Rising.

Favourite Christmas Ads

The obvious first question for the panel – which one is your favourite so far?

“Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot is different to the others and worked well last year so it’s good they brought him back,” said Leighton.

Myers-Lampty enjoyed the TK Maxx ad this year saying the promotional ‘win a white Christmas’ campaign was innovative and set it apart from other brands.

Tim Phillips went for Marks & Spencers, “the partnership of two British icons working together has made it really charming.”

Thacker picked Amazon as his favourite because it put its product at the heart of the creative with Vodafone a close second because of the innovation to choose an episodic format rather than a one-off blockbuster.

No John Lewis?

When Vizard questioned the absence of the most anticipated Christmas ad, the panellists explained why it’s difficult for John Lewis to capture the industry’s imagination now. As Leighton explained “they must be commended for their status as ‘most talked about’ Christmas ad in the media” but Phillips countered this with “ultimately it’s just not a very good ad as it misses a genuine emotional tug on heartstrings with its ambiguous ending.”

Thacker agreed that it doesn’t carry emotional weight due to its confusing narrative and Myers-Lampty said whilst it is not as surprising as other campaigns they have brought out, ultimately the bar has been set so high for them that all we look for now are the flaws rather than simply enjoying them.

The Christmas Turkeys

Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, TalkTalk and Morrisons all came under criticism for their festive efforts this year. Whilst Sainsbury’s song was deemed ‘so uncatchy’ by Phillips, Myers-Lampty reserved special disdain for TalkTalk who produced an ad that showed all the realities of a lonely Christmas when their brand is supposed to be connecting people. Waitrose was roundly criticised for showing its food in black and white, a basic creative error, and the story itself being strange and like Stephen King’s ‘Misery.’ The verdict on Morrisons’ ad was that it simply was dull.

End of the advertising blockbuster?

It’s not the end of the blockbuster Christmas ad according to our panel but Myers-Lampty expounded the reason for doing them must be because they actually work. “As much as we may criticise individual creative work from John Lewis their overall campaigns are always excellent at driving sales in the festive period.”

Phillips agreed that whilst one great advert can get lots of coverage it does not always translate into sales, and Leighton used the example of Tesco, explaining how in previous years they have spent a lot on festive campaigns whilst receiving nothing in return. The thoughts were summarised by Thacker who maintained an ad can be “big in the industry but not in the world”.

How to place a Christmas ad campaign

TV is still king according to Leighton and Myers-Lampty as that is where the audience will be fully immersed in your campaign. Putting a 90 second advert on social is a waste of money as no one will watch it.

Myers-Lampty believes some brands may think they need to be on every platform to have a successful campaign; “The reality now is that all brands and retailers are monitoring and tracking everything and maybe not trying all platforms is needed as ultimately TV is the most important at this time.”

Christmas bugbears

Overloading on festive stereotypes and clichés was unanimously decided to be the most annoying part of Christmas ads as images of families sitting around tables with turkeys did nothing to distinguish one brand from another.

Diving into why brands don’t seem to be able to set themselves apart, Leighton made the point that because planning starts so many months in advance they probably all think they are going to be different but by the time Christmas arrives they seem identical.

Thacker’s advice was “brand should dig deeper and not just follow the traditional. They should find a way of exposing what the real truths of Christmas are rather than always falling back to clichés”.

Thank you to everyone who attended what was a lively panel full of joy and humbugs in equal measure at the current state of Christmas advertising!

Watch our selection of notable Christmas adverts from the last 20 years below: