The battle of the Christmas TV adverts and is it worth it?

Rebecca Caruso Written by
Rebecca Caruso

All’s fair in love and holidays…..

As the season rolls around, it’s not the advent calendar people are anticipating; it’s the advert season. After months of planning, retailers released their Christmas-y campaigns , in what most advertisers consider a critical season for retailers.

Branding is hit-or-miss for retailers, and it’s often difficult to match the tone and message of the ad with the consumer’s perception of the company.

The magic of storytelling

John Lewis, a staple of the season’s on-screen festivities, hits the nail on the head every year. And 2019 was no exception. With ads like “Man on the Moon”, Neil Armstrong doesn’t come up as a suggested search, but rather, John Lewis’ 2015 Christmas ad. Even the song used in the ad, ‘Half the World Away’ by the unknown Norwegian singer Aurora Aksnes, skyrocketed her to a Christmas #1 that same year.

In 2019, John Lewis (and its sister brand, Waitrose) featured a little girl, Ava, and her friend, a cute dragon, Excitable Edgar, who is unable to control his explosive fire breathing. Thinking he will ruin Christmas because of his fire-breathing, he shuts himself away. Ava gives him a John Lewis gift as a sign of acceptance, and a sweet tune plays in the background of this heartfelt moment.

There’s not much that can go wrong with John Lewis; everything in their store is a present. This allows brands like John Lewis to focus on sentimental messages, filled with magic, love and ‘gift-giving’. Because they’re so broad in the goods they sell, John Lewis can target the focus on the thought surrounding the gift, rather than the gift itself. This strikes a chord with many consumers, and it has built a reputation of being a staple feel-good ad each year.

Stick to what you know…..or not?

Lidl went with a simpler messaging with its Christmas TV adverts: a family goes Christmas shopping and brings their celebrations back home, with presents and a home-cooked meal.

Sainsbury’s ad features a chimney sweeper, called Nick i.e. a young Father Christmas. The ad shows a brand-new Sainsbury store in Drury Lane, and Nick caught stealing a clementine. He is rescued by Mary Ann Sainsbury and they venture off to the snowy mountains.

More focused on the food than on Christmas, retailers like Lidl and Sainbury’s have to take into account their demographic to be more effective. Lidl’s tagline “big on quality, Lidl on price” set the tone for their ad; a non-extravagant and easy family dinner. Sainsbury’s tried, it seems, to deviate from food all together (except for the rogue clementine), introducing the legendary “Nick”. This is less of a Christmas TV advert, and more a trailer of a potential children’s Christmas movie.

Focus on what you want to sell

M&S, despite known more for its food retailing, decided to run a series of adverts focused on various ranges of clothing they sell which are also popular items for Christmas, such as pyjamas and sweaters. For the sweaters, it opted for a dancing and singing theme, featuring the House of Pain’s 1992 Jump On, and showing 50 different jumpers from their knitwear line. The tagline “Go Jumpers for Christmas” is not one that viewers will cuddle up with a tea and watch with the holidays on their mind.

Getting it right is difficult. Understanding the demographic and the products is often limiting, especially when needing to keep on theme with Christmas. For most food retailers, this involves hyping up their food selection, the gift of family, the sharing of a meal and the culinary traditions of Christmas. For fashion retailers, these ads come in the form of big deals and big fluffy jumpers.

But, the Battle of Christmas Adverts is over before it begins. Home and garden, furniture, electricals, men/women, baby/child, sports and leisure are but a few of the many areas to explore in John Lewis. It has the luxury to take attention away from the gift (which can be anything at its store) and focus on the heart of Christmas.

Is this bad?

Not necessarily so. I would say that it’s not worth a big fuss if companies get it right or not at Christmas-time. What’s most important, is being authentic. Lidl, true to its brand and demographic, went for a clear and direct message in its ad. No fuss, no tinsel: affordable food, and a good meal. None of these ads will particularly harm the reputation of any company: if anything, it’s a fun tradition to look forward to how John Lewis will steal the spotlight with their yearly, weepy ad.