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Have we lost the true meaning of Christmas in TV advertising?

Have we lost the true meaning of Christmas in TV advertising?

With Christmas just under a week away, it’s safe to say the festive season is well and truly upon us. Gingerbread lattes in every commuters hands, mince pies on every supermarket shelf and of course the sub zero temperatures sending us into Saturday night hibernation. But when it comes to Christmas, nothing quite gets you in the mood like the “Holidays are coming” jingle or the beloved John Lewis 60 second spot. 

And whilst we can always rely on the big brands to pull out the stops and captivate us with a heartwarming visual masterpiece, it’s hard not to pose the question, have we lost the true meaning of Christmas in TV advertising? I ask because my understanding is that Christmas is all about giving. So if we’re going to take one calendar event in the year to focus on making our marketing budget work the hardest and “giving back” surely it would be Christmas? Particularly in an era where we crave authenticity and have much higher expectations of what a brand should say and do. Yet year on year we huge amounts of money being thrown at fictional concepts that have no deeper purpose than to drive sales. The question we as both marketers and creative thinkers need to ask is, could we be spending an £8bn budget on a real concept that could change lives? Could we make Christmas the “goodvertising” time of the year?

Last month the ASA forecasted that brands will be spending a record of £6bn on Christmas advertising in 2017, mainly driven by the intense market competition, particularly in the retail sector. It was commented by Craig Mawdsley at AMVVBDO that brands have to participate if not for their own growth to offset the growth of others (BBC 2017). So surely if your aim is to offset the growth of competitors, your creative ideas should be especially disruptive? But when you review the selection of this year’s adverts there seems to be a consistent of pattern of fictional stories, both animated and moving image with a very expected Christmas storyline. Now you can't argue that the production and the sentiment behind the adverts from John Lewis, the BBC, Vodafone and McDonalds aren’t all of high quality but my biggest frustration is the lack of differentiation. How are these brands going to offset the growth of each other if they are just regurgitating the same type of solution? 

More and more we see meaningful brands and communications outperforming the big dogs because they recognise the value on focussing on the bigger picture. A Christmas campaign that we loved last year was the Gift of Beauty from Boots, the TV advert saw 45 real women who work in a range of professions from paramedics to midwives to police officers and carers, being treated to a day of pampering in order to recognise all the hard work they put in during the festive period. Why did we love this? Because Boots found an insight that celebrated real people and wasn’t solely about getting people in stores, it was about giving back whilst still creating that warm fuzzy feeling we know our viewers love. 

So what if, next year brands pushed their advertising agencies to think deeper about the spirit of Christmas, and they demanded ideas that really disrupted. Now I don’t mean a two headed Cyclops in a war zone pretending to be Santa, I mean an advert that when you’re sitting through the X-factor ad break you feel genuinely taken back by what’s in front of your eyes. In Alex Lewis and Bridget Angear’s book Revolt (which anyone who wants to start a revolution needs to read!) they explore the importance of maximising your ROI (Revolution on Investment) with the example of helping people with sight loss. They highlight that in Ethiopia alone, there are 1 million people who could be treated for trachoma induced blindness by an operation of £15. 

So imagine you’re an eyewear brand and instead of showing a bunch of hipster Santa Clauses wearing your collection you decide to spend a fraction of your Christmas marketing budget on a cause like this. Surely that would be a magical Christmas moment to capture? That would be a TV spot to make the hairs on your arms stand up for all the right reasons. One that would undoubtably build brand awareness, attract new customers and showcase the benefits of your brand on wider scale, which lets face it if done well, would ultimately lead to sales growth. 

Wouldn’t that be better than just nice?

Back in September we had the privilege of listening to Dave Trott speak about risk taking, one thing that he highlighted was that as advertisers, it’s our job to communicate a message and to do it differently. So before you even begin concepting for next year, why not think about that Christmas ad break and what else will be in it, what themes and patterns can you predict and how can you go against the grain? This message goes out to the Brand Managers writing the briefs and the Creative teams responding, when it comes to the ideation process for next year’s Christmas TV spot, how can you think about the bigger picture you could support, celebrate and give back to? In our industry we have a huge amount of power to influence and inform, so lets start pushing concepts to a point where we see a benefit in society not just our trophy cabinet. 

Let’s start making it matter. 


Written by Stefanie Sword-Williams, Senior Account Manager at Mattr.Media.