Unwrapping 2017’s Christmas Campaigns: An Insight Roundtable

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The Halloween decorations had barely been taken down before this year’s batch of Christmas campaigns arrived on our screens. Appearing between early to mid-November, almost all of the big British retailers released their festive efforts on the small screen to be dissected by consumers on social media.

The fight for seasonal supremacy has become an expensive game, with advertising costing brands a jaw-dropping 6bn this year. With the money spent on Christmas ads rising nearly 40% in the last seven years, it is even more imperative for brands to make the most of their investment.

Last year, The Insight & Communications Team at Ebiquity released a seasonal roundtable to discuss the winners and losers of the 2016 festive season. We took a subjective approach to picking apart each campaign, with various ads striking a chord with some, and not making an impression with others. This year, we have increased the scope by featuring a wider range of competitors and noting what the general public made of each campaign, with the likes-to-dislikes ratio of each creative attached to our analysis (figures taken from YouTube and accurate on 30/11/2017).


Aldi 
88%/12% (Like/Dislike)

Cameron Butler, Analyst

Kevin the Carrot returns for the second year running as Aldi sets the endearing edible hero another perilous quest. In a homage to mainstream cinema, (I spotted references to 9½ Weeks, Murder on the Orient Express, and Titanic), the brand replicates the winning formula it established last year, and even allows our lead a chance at love. That said, whilst viewers may once again revel in seeing what is fast becoming the brand’s Christmas mascot, I feel Aldi may have profited this year from a new approach to avoid its campaign becoming stale.

 

Jeremy Cowles, Senior Strategist

Kevin the carrot is back, accompanied once again by Jim Broadbent’s narration in another epic tale of heroism. This time Aldi have added Katie, Kev’s new love interest, and together it is hoped their popularity can bring significant sales growth again for the supermarket this Christmas. This neat vignette is rich in quality, has a heart-warming tale and showcases the best of Aldi’s goods, but I worry the motivation is skewed by recent efforts from rivals and is perhaps trying too hard to build a franchise from the characters – you can already pick up Kevin and Katie plush toys for £2.99 each. Does this mean we’re stuck with Kevin and Katie year after year until sales start to flag? Only time will tell.


Argos

86%/14% (Like/Dislike)

Martin Broad, Head of Insight

After last year’s lacklustre effort, I wasn’t expecting much from Argos this year – but 2017 sees the brand release an improved effort. The previous focuses on product range and fast delivery remain (as well as the seasonal nod to Star Wars toys), but the whole thing feels a lot more closely aligned to the season than last year. It certainly won’t threaten any of the big Christmas players – the campaign overall is a little soulless, and the whole ‘Terminal 5’ feel to Santa’s grotto seems a bit clinical for the season – but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

 

Jeremy Cowles, Senior Strategist

I am delighted to see that the protagonists of last year’s abomination – remember those multi-coloured yetis on skates – have been dropped in favour of more conventional story-telling, but I’d still like to have words with the genius behind this campaign. Come on, it’s a blatant rip-off of Aardman’s Arthur Christmas. And that really annoys me. OK, so the narrative nicely shows Argos’ capabilities at this festive time, and is actually very well shot, but creatively speaking it’s just a plain lazy effort.


Boots

93%/7% (Like/Dislike)

Cameron Butler, Analyst

Boots must be mildly irritated that its campaign strategy has been largely mimicked this year by House of Fraser, albeit by coincidence. Nevertheless, this heart-warming tale of the close bond between sisters hits the right spot. It’s worth noting that the actual gift is never shown in this ad, with Boots instead choosing to highlight the aforementioned sisterly relationship exclusively, showcasing a consumer-driven, rather than product-driven, approach to the festive season.

 

 

Lucy Nunn, Senior Strategist

Sibling affection and an appreciation for a gift bought with love and care are at the heart of ‘Show Them You Know Them’, this year’s heart-warming Christmas effort from Boots. Women have long played a pivotal role in the retailer’s festive TV ads (last year we saw females who work on Christmas Day as the main protagonists, and in 2015 a focus on women’s beauty treats), but 2017’s focus on sisters is a winning formula for me. Siblings, and the special bond they share, isn’t a relationship we see explored a lot in festive (or year round) advertising, but here it allows Boots to bring together a sense of family, history and authentic gift giving, things which make Christmas so special.


Debenhams

64%/36% (Like/Dislike)

Lauren Fitzgerald, Strategist

I’m a sucker for a romantic “boy meets girl, they fall in love” story, so this ad from Debenhams did not disappoint. From Ewan McGregor’s narration, to the modern take on Cinderella, this ad provides escapism in the form of a lovely little fairy-tale.

 

 

 

Lucy Nunn, Senior Strategist

I’m a sucker for a good old-fashioned love story and Debenhams executes a ‘Cinderella-esque’ narrative wonderfully in ‘You Shall Find Your Fairytale’. Narrated by Ewan McGregor, (who I may also have a slight soft spot for), this emotional story is perfectly edited, and flows like a genuine branded movie. A far cry from the product-driven, tactical ‘Found It’ strategy we saw in 2016. Well done Debenhams!

 


John Lewis 

86%/14% (Like/Dislike)

Jamie Brackell, Strategist

Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but the John Lewis formula seems to be showing through in this creative. Bearing striking similarities to Monty the Penguin from a few years back, it feels like the department store is focused more on selling promotional toys of Moz the Monster and copies of its latest cover track than telling an emotive story. Hopefully next year, the former trailblazer will break out of its now-tired formula and deliver something fresh and exciting again.

 

Cameron Butler, Analyst

I feel largely apathetic about this one, I neither loved nor hated it, and will most likely not find myself revisiting it in years to come. The John Lewis campaigns that have succeeded so well in the past have largely done so because of the payoff at the end, the brand rewards us for our patience with an often adorable, rewarding conclusion to the tale. That just isn’t present here, which was the case last year as well, so I can understand the nation’s slight disappointment.


Lidl

78%/22% (Like/Dislike)

Jeremy Cowles, Senior Strategist

I really like the refreshing no-frills, no-nonsense approach from Lidl this Christmas. Through a series of fun episodes centred on individuals, Lidl sticks with a simple advertising concept which really stays true to form. They’re not bloated with grandiose messaging or tenuous brand mascots. They’re just about what Lidl stands for: range and value. Well done Lidl, you’re my pick of the bunch!

 

 

Lucy Nunn, Senior Strategist

Every family has one – the guy that insists on pouring the drinks and thinks he’s a cocktail connoisseur, the dad/grandad who HAS to carve the turkey and then the awkward cousin who doesn’t want turkey at all. Well Lidl has brought all of these Christmas characters to life in a series of fun and humorous TV ads which cuts straight to the point.

 


M&S

64%/36% (Like/Dislike)

Jamie Brackell, Strategist

After a wonderful dose of girl-power with its Mrs Claus campaign last year, M&S have returned with a slightly corporate tie-in to the latest Paddington movie. While it is deliciously unconventional with its tale of a burglar breaking bad and then turning good, it still feels like a promotional vehicle to sell cinema tickets and cuddly toys. With the recent “controversy” over a misheard line that turns “thank you, little bear” into a more expletive-laden parting shot, the brand has certainly stood out from the crop of Christmas ads, and the association with Paddington will only serve to drive brand awareness over the coming weeks.

Lauren Fitzgerald, Strategist

What’s not to love about a Christmas ad featuring Britain’s best-loved bear? It’s festive, fun, ridiculously cute and a perfect little watch for all the family. The tie-in with Paddington 2 and in-store support of NSPCC make for the perfect Christmas instalment

 


Sainsbury’s

58%/42% (Like/Dislike)

Jamie Brackell, Strategist

Reinventing itself yet again, Sainsbury’s delivers a festive sing-a-long that puts real people at the heart of its campaign. While it is somewhat cheesy at times, the campaign shares the same DNA as its ongoing “Living Well” strategy, offering strong brand continuity. However, its low-key and grounded approach might not do well against competitors who embrace the magic and wonder of the Christmas season.

 

Martin Broad, Head of Insight

Sainsbury’s has put out some sterling Christmas work over the last few years, from 2014’s poignantly brilliant WWI campaign to the predictable-yet-respectable Mog The Cat in 2015. However, as much as I was looking forward to this, 2017’s effort is disappointing. The incessant black-and-white visuals are dreary and tiresome, the throw-in of Kermit the Frog just seems cynical and the less said about the impressions of Ed Sheeran the better. In its defence, it does fit with Sainsbury’s ‘Living Well’ strategy, but it drastically misses the mark for me. Please, Sainsbury’s: leave the ‘sing-a-long’ tactic alone and go back to having a decent story in your Christmas ads. And no, I don’t want to watch the ‘karaoke version’…


Sky Cinema

98%/2% (Like/Dislike)

Lauren Fitzgerald, Strategist

Ever since I was a little girl, it has been a tradition to sit with my mum over Christmas and watch a classic film whether it be The Sound of Music, or Mary Poppins so this ad-evoked feelings of nostalgia and cosiness for me. Sky Cinema have summed up the importance of film in bringing people together so wonderfully, leaving me with a little tear in my eye.

 

 

Martin Broad, Head of Insight

An excellent campaign from Sky Cinema this year; cosy, classic, and the story has an emotional edge that is touching without ever resorting to schmaltz. It will be hard to beat M&S and its Paddington escapades this year, but this campaign is one of the stronger contenders.

 


Tesco 

20%/80% (Like/Dislike)

Jamie Brackell, Strategist

Offering a more grounded take on Christmas – one that might look more familiar to viewers than the idealised versions seen elsewhere – Tesco celebrates the individuality of everyone’s Christmas stories by focusing on how families cook their turkeys. Reminiscent of Cadbury Crème Egg’s “How do you Eat yours” strategy, Tesco manages to serve up a multi-cultural tour through Christmas that delivers an inclusive message, particularly poignant in light of divisive issues in the media such as Brexit and Trump.

 

Cameron Butler, Analyst

Tesco’s take on the ritualistic, often frenetic task of cooking the Christmas meal has garnered a mixed reaction from the British public, to put it lightly. Whilst many have argued that a valuable sense of ‘Britishness’ has been lost in the brand’s display of multiculturalism, I’d argue, as Jamie has before me, that in the divisive times in which we live, it’s nice to see us all strive towards a common goal, albeit towards something as simple as a Christmas dinner.


Very

76%/24% (Like/Dislike)

Lauren Fitzgerald, Strategist

I love an animated ad at Christmas, and Very has captured the festive cheer perfectly. The ad feels like the brand’s own adaptation of Disney’s Frozen, with the animation and the mystical music taking us on an adorable adventure that celebrates the joy of giving.

 

 

 

Jeremy Cowles, Senior Strategist

This monumental cinematic effort from Very reminds us that Christmas is about the joy of giving, not just the joy of mince pies and re-runs of The Royle Family. Ok that’s a bit cynical as this really is a charming little feature using classic Disney-esque techniques such as the wide-eyed heroine and her trusty companion overcoming adversity to ‘do the right thing’ and ultimately pluck at our heartstrings. It’s adorable. It’s emotional. It’s grand. It’s massively Christmassy. But like that second glass of egg-nog, it’s a bit too sickly sweet for me.


Vodafone

96%/4% (Like/Dislike)

Martin Broad, Head of Insight

Slightly more stamina needed here to watch Vodafone’s 6-part Christmas love story campaign, and really without either pay-off or let-down; it’s a solid enough campaign, neither truly great nor woefully off the mark. Martin Freeman, as ever, gives a trademark performance as the loveable and funny Everyman lead, although the mentions of data allowance and free minutes seem a little ham-fisted. A single condensed version, with less tactical emphasis and a bigger climax, would have improved it.

 

Lucy Nunn, Senior Strategist

Vodafone’s subtlety in incorporating a range of its products and services, including its new pay as you go tariff, so sensitively into a captivating festive tale is a real feat. Another love story, we see long-term brand ambassador Martin Freeman bonding with a female over Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life – a clever choice that many of the British public will relate to. Told over two TV ads, and four more social films, the narrative has lovely touches of humour which keeps it light-hearted.


As was the case in 2016, this year’s set of festive campaigns occasionally split opinion amongst the team. However, what is perhaps particularly noteworthy this time around is how the Insight & Communications Team didn’t always agree with the general public, (Tesco and Debenhams were key examples of this), highlighting the truly subjective nature of advertising at Christmas.

Whilst we felt the surprise hit of last year was Heathrow, this year the title belongs to Sky Cinema and Very. M&S remains a market leader when it comes to a Christmas campaign, and John Lewis, the former benchmark brand by which all other companies are compared, seems to falter once again. Perhaps it’s time, as others have argued, for the retail giant to examine its now tired formula?

2017 was also noteworthy for the shared themes and messaging present across many of the campaigns. Debenhams and Vodafone both used a prominent Hollywood A-lister to tell their stories of love, whilst Boots and House of Fraser put their products to one side in favour of telling an affecting account of the relationship between sisters. TalkTalk, Tesco, and the global advert for Lidl all focused on family and what makes Christmas “Christmas” in the 21st century.

Does this awareness demonstrate that brands have become hyper-aware of what makes a great campaign, meaning companies are likely to continue to strike a chord with consumers by hitting familiar touchstones? Or has the festive season become too predictable? Too formulaic? Will brands struggle in the coming years to stand out from an increasingly homogenised crowd?

All that and more will become apparent in the coming years, but for now, Merry Christmas!

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