What Makes a Great Christmas Campaign?

Christmas campaigns are a big deal. If you need proof of that just look at seasonal behemoth John Lewis, whose much-anticipated festive advert – which is now a tradition after first teaming up with adam&eveDDB in 2011 – takes almost an entire year to plan and delivers their most profitable ROI. What might seem short-lived and frivolous on the surface is in fact a long-term strategy to strengthen brand loyalty by connecting with consumers on an emotional level.

Other brands have since followed suit and the annual Christmas ‘ad battle’ is as clichéd as the obligatory tinsel, mince pies and reindeer-covered jumper. This year just some of the contenders have been H&M’s Wes Anderson ‘Come Together’ ad featuring Adrian Brody, Sainsbury’s animated ‘The Greatest Gift’ voiced by James Cordon, M&S’s ‘Love From Mrs Claus’ and Burberry’s star-studded ‘Tale of Thomas Burberry’, which could be mistaken for a feature film trailer.

Each year the critics weigh in on what’s worked and what hasn’t and Joe Public vocalise their love or hate for each across social media. But with so many now vying for the top spot, what makes a truly great Christmas campaign?

PR Week’s verdict on last year’s adverts were as follows: Winners – John Lewis, Sainsbury’s, Aldi and Tesco for their themes of family, good old-fashioned values, charitable angles and in Aldi’s case, tapping into the existing zeitgeist with its John Lewis #ManOnTheMoon homage. Losers – M&S, Morrison’s, Waitrose and Debenhams – fell short because of cheap production value, too much of a hard-sell and lack of magic.

One particularly heart-warming advert this year didn’t come from a brand we’ve all heard of, but Polish auction website, Allegro. The tale of a Polish grandfather learning to speak English ahead of a trip to London has resonated with its online audience and so far racked up eight million views. Ian Henderson, executive creative director at AML, a London-based brand and advertising agency, told the BBC: “The very modest branding works in its favour, the advertiser has had the grace to get out of the way of the emotion.”

The tearjerkers work. It’s the ads that pull on our heartstrings and evoke an emotional response that perform well – those that suspend disbelief. In 2015, Sainsbury’s experienced thirty million customer transactions in the seven days before Christmas – up 2.6% year-on-year. The retailer attributed these results to the success of Mog’s Christmas Calamity campaign. M&S on the other hand, with its unmemorable ‘Follow the Fairies’ ad, experienced the opposite. Like-for-like sales fell 2.5% in the 13 weeks to 28 December, and Mark Bolland, its chief executive, quit.

But it isn’t just a heart-warming, cinematic advert that guarantees success. A multi-channel campaign across every touchpoint is necessary to prevent a great advert from being nothing more than a flash in the pan. For the last few years, John Lewis has launched its Christmas advert on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram before TV. This builds the anticipation and means the retailer dominates the share of voice on social media in the lead up to the big day.

This year, M&S has brought Mrs Claus to life across social, in store, mobile and online to help customers with their shopping queries. There has been co-branded teaser activity across the Channel 4 network, social media takeovers, a bespoke #LoveMrsClaus emoji and offline, in-store employees will be carrying out 15,000 acts of Mrs Claus kindness.  There isn’t one avenue the retailer hasn’t explored this year – and hopefully they’ve done enough to reverse last year’s disastrous results.

Only time will tell just how effective this year’s festive ads have been. It won’t be until January when we can see performance across the entire Christmas period and see exactly whose efforts paid off.

One thing is for certain: like all things Christmassy, go big or go home.

By Bella Foxwell


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