The hype that surrounds the release of Christmas adverts from brands like John Lewis, Waitrose, and Marks and Spencer signals the start of the festive shopping experience, as retailers fill their TV slots with short film-like adverts that seem to be getting bigger and more expensive each year.
Considering the universal hatred of normal TV adverts, why do consumers get so excited and invested in the Christmas ads? While most retailers are still using their television slot to highlight seasonal discounts and special products, the brands that seem to benefit the most from the Christmas advert competition are the ones that don’t really sell anything specific. They don’t push their festive deals, they don’t introduce new items, and they don’t use celebrity endorsements to boost their sales.
Let’s consider the most obvious example: John Lewis. Usually cinematic, with a high production value and significant budgets, the Christmas adverts the brand publishes are usually focused on stories of friendship, family, kindness, and generosity, showcasing the giving nature of the holiday, and often inciting a heartfelt, emotional, even tearful reaction from viewers. The Christmas adverts have made John Lewis a household name and one that is synonymous with the festive period.
By creating the highly watchable and share-worthy content at the beginning of Christmas every year, John Lewis secures itself as a staple of the festive period, boosting its brand awareness and visibility just in time for the shopping to begin. It becomes the first retailer most people think about when thinking about Christmas and that is powerful marketing, fuelling £2,167,000,000 of profits in 2019.
The potential impact of the Christmas TV advert has exploded over the last few years, as have the budgets. Retailers who throw their glove into the ring to compete with their own Christmas TV advert can spend over £1,000,000 to bring to life their holiday stories. However, they can be a double-edged sword. The public rating of the John Lewis advert varies year to year, with 2015 Man on the Moon being incredibly popular but 2020’s Give a Little Love falling a little flat, though the brand was limited to using animation and people’s enthusiasm for the holiday was likely at an all-time low due to the lockdown restrictions.
If the Christmas advert doesn’t strike the right note with the public, it can result in difficult PR for the company and even legal ramifications. Tesco’s 2021 advert featuring Santa displaying a vaccine passport received more than 5,000 complaints from people claiming it encouraged medical discrimination against those unvaccinated individuals. The ASA ultimately cleared the advert of any wrongdoing, but it certainly divided opinions.
Will the Christmas TV advert one day be obsolete?
Considering the growing popularity of ad-free streaming platforms and social media video content, will brands soon turn their Christmas advertising attention to a different format or platform? TikTok’s explosive success with short-form video content might introduce a new type of storytelling for brands to capitalise on for future campaigns.