The Commercial Side of Christmas I: Who Does Christmas Best?

Christmas, a time for family, food and… adverts? The first of the month marked the beginning of the annual battle to create the best Christmas ad. Nowhere is this fight more prominent than amongst retailers.

Historically, brands have drawn upon feelings of nostalgia, humour and social conscience in a bid to win the war for Christmas sales. Over the coming days, we’ll take a look at the different approaches to advertising over the festive period, asking the question: does one conquer all?

Today, we take a walk down memory lane… 

The classic approach to Christmas advertising: companies have been rolling out ads designed to evoke feelings of nostalgia for decades. Think Coca-Cola’s iconic red truck or the Snowman and his Irn-Bru-drinking friend ‘walking in the air’. Year on year, these adverts make us laugh and cry, as we fondly remember our childhoods. 

Ultimately, the brand’s aim is to stir a desire in consumers to recreate these past happy memories - with a little help from the retailer’s products. A point demonstrated beautifully by John Lewis (JL) when the cuddly toy version of everyone’s favourite Christmas penguin “Monty” sold out online. 

This year, two of the Big Four - Sainsbury’s and Tesco - have remained true to their roots, producing relatable and emotionally charged campaigns. Sainsbury’s has presented the oh-so familiar school nativity play, complete with adorable child singers and novelty costumes, including one boy dressed as a plug socket - genius. Despite critics drawing comparisons with JL’s recent ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ campaign, it is nonetheless a welcome addition to the Christmas advert catalogue.

Tesco takes a slightly different approach, choosing to focus on the diverse nature of families within the UK. The ad centres of the message that “everyone’s welcome” as we are treated to snapshots of different families experiencing Christmas their own way, dinner table debates and all. 

Following similar themes of family and childhood, Boots has captured the rollercoaster ride that can be the mother-daughter relationship and Very has reminded us of those childhood dreams our parents helped us achieve – albeit most of us don’t become astronauts. 

For many, what really drives the emotional connection to a Christmas advert is the soundtrack. Remember Quality Street winning the hearts - and sales - of the nation with its 1992 ‘Magic Moments’ ad? 

The masters of this in the contemporary space are John Lewis, with their adverts and songs so entwined they are a commercial success for both retailer and artist. Gabrielle Aplin’s wistful cover of the Frankie Goes to Hollywood classic ‘The Power of Love’ earned her the top spot in the 2012 UK charts. This year, Sainsbury’s followed suit with a child’s cover of the New Radical’s hit ‘You Get What You Give’. 

In a turn of musical events, John Lewis’s latest festive extravaganza features Sir Elton John performing his ‘Your Song’ anthem. As the ad unfolds, we are given a glimpse into the pop star’s career in reverse, ending with the touching moment that triggered it all - a little boy being given his first piano at Christmas. Whilst some have praised the retailer for paying a heart-felt tribute to the iconic singer, others have questioned John Lewis’s intentions: Is it a Christmas advert or a publicity ploy for Sir Elton’s upcoming Biopic Rocketman? 

Not to be caught off guard, John Lewis seems to have pre-empted this uncertainty. This week saw sister company, Waitrose, take a swipe at the Elton inspired ad; viewers watched as a family fast-forward through JL’s latest offering, with the father remarking “I preferred the one with the penguin”. 

Overall, the retailers have set the sentimental stakes high. This year’s contenders have all left us with that warm glow of the past, but which Christmas ad did it best? 

To vote for your favourite, visit us on Twitter

Categories: Opinion Marketing