Which brands got it right this Christmas?

Fran Weeks, Monday December 4, 2017

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In truth the Digital Blonde group chat has been full of commentary on all the Christmas ads ever since Moz the Monster premiered in early November. And we aren’t the only ones talking about it, news of the John Lewis advert and the public’s reaction to it even made the BBC’s homepage. While data from Brandwatch found that there were 2,906 mentions of the John Lewis Christmas ad on social media between 7 and 8am, after the ad was released at 7.40am. Who could have predicted there would ever be this much anticipation for an advert? Thanks to current marketing knowledge on the importance of storytelling and making an emotional connection with your audience, adverts are more appealing than ever.

Positive or negative?

Let’s start with John Lewis, often credited as the founders of the epic Christmas advert, they have quite a legacy behind them. Yet it initially looked as though they’d faced a bit of backlash this year. People took to social media to express their disappointment with this year’s advert, with many expecting something weepier.

At first glance it might seem like going for something so uplifting has backfired for the retailer – but perhaps there’s a reason they chose a more positive tale. Aside from the obvious argument that 2017 has been a bit bleak and we could all do with cheering up, there’s something else to consider. Despite our national news heavily favouring negative news stories, it turns out that the content people are most likely to share is positive, happy stories.  According to Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s book Everybody Lies: What The Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are(a fascinating read), content is more likely to go viral if it’s positive. As PR & marketing professionals we often look for worrying statistics in order to make news headlines and frequently it’s a successful strategy. However, if social shares are what you’re after (which are arguably more value to John Lewis than news headlines) then positivity is the way to go.

Enjoyment isn’t everything

It’s also worth noting that a bit of backlash may not necessarily be a bad thing when it comes to adverts. Research has shown we don’t actually have to like or even enjoy an advert for it to be successful. The now infamous Go Compare adverts were voted the nation’s most annoying, yet the volume of people using the service went up by an impressive 20% since the ads launched. Of course, we wouldn’t dare suggest Moz the Monster is anywhere near as disliked as the Go Compare man. It’s just worth highlighting that sometimes the most effective ads are not the same as the most enjoyed ones.

Psychology & Persuasion

Here at Digital Blonde, we pride ourselves on taking a psychological approach to marketing campaigns. It’s our firm belief that a strong understanding of human behaviour is central to successful marketing. Digital Blonde’s founder Karen Fewell frequently gives talks on using psychology to supercharge your marketing efforts. In particular, we like to refer to Dr. Robert Cialdini's theory of influence, based on Six Persuasion Principles, when we begin any marketing activity (book yourself on Digital Blonde course or read one of Dr Cialdini’s books for more information on these). We wondered if any of the big Christmas ads making use of any of these persuasion principles this year.

People like us

‘Liking’ is one of the key persuasion principles described by Dr Cialdini. People prefer buying from people they like. In Cialdini’s words “We like people who are similar to us”. Which brings us nicely to the Boots Christmas advert, featuring two sisters growing up, being there for one another. It’s relatable for almost anyone with a close sibling relationship and has certainly had a fair few of us in tears. And that’s largely because the women in the advert ‘are similar to us’, not necessarily in their physical appearance (although it helps that they look like real people). It’s their relationship that’s familiar, when we look at that advert, we see ourselves and our family in it. The way that the Boots products subtly fit into the story is cleverly done and makes this advert a real winner. We’ve yet to come across anyone with a bad word to say about it.

Building on success

As the old adage goes ‘If it aint broke, don’t fix it’ and one brand who seem to have really embraced this is Aldi by bringing back the star of their 2016 advert, Colin the Carrot. Hailed as a hit last year, the soft toy version of Colin the Carrot was so popular it sold out, so it makes perfect sense for him to return. This year Colin’s looking for love and in a teaser to the campaign, Colin even appeared on the dating app Happn, where people who matched with him could start a conversation with him. This is another advert we’ve only heard praise for from those around us, well done Aldi!

Storytelling at Christmas

One ad that has us all very emotional, is the Sky Cinema advert, featuring The Sound of Music. Like the Boots advert it depicts time passing, a family changing and close relationships. While it’s a little different to the Boots advert, the premise is similar. It’s easy to feel familiarity with family Christmas traditions and the feeling that some things are a constant with a family, no matter what. It’s the storytelling element of Sky’s advert that is particularly strong too. The advert centres on the power of stories (films) to bring us together, so how better to deliver this message than to tell a story? Studies have shown that people are 22 times more likely to remember a story than a fact. So, while Sky could have listed all the great Christmas movies they’ll be showing and other important facts in their ad, they simply chose to tell us a heart-warming tale instead.

Storytelling is a key feature of the offering from Debenhams too, where we’re treated to a very modern twist on the classic Cinderella story. With the high street facing challenging times and tough competition, a captivating story and emotional appeal are more important than ever. The Debenhams ad certainly delivers on the story side, a fairy tale is something we’re all nostalgically familiar with. And nostalgia is another key ingredient for marketing success, the warm feeling it generates often leaves us more receptive to brand messaging. Debenhams fairy tale campaign also lent itself nicely to instore activity, with staff handing out free gifts and vouchers in a Cinderella-style ‘clocks strikes 12’ moment. Tying everything together like this is no easy feat and it’s something brands can often fall down on, so we love seeing how Debenhams have achieved this.

Nostalgia and generational appeal

As we’ve already discussed children’s stories are a great way of conjuring nostalgia and fondness from your audience. Perhaps one of the best uses of this comes from M&S, who have teamed up with Paddington Bear for their Christmas offering. It has dual appeal, endearing itself to younger viewers and fans of the recent films, whilst reaching older viewers on a nostalgic level. With the first ever Paddington Bear story published in 1958 and the TV series running into the 90s, the marmalade-loving bear has played a big part of many of our childhoods. When it comes to storytelling, it’s often recommended to aim for laughter, tears or goose bumps and #LoveTheBear by M&S delivers all three brilliantly. It really looks as though M&S have a hit on their hands.

Something different

Something different this year is the sing-a-long advert from Sainsburys, standing out in the crowd because of its lack of narrative. The retailer has certainly brought us some diverse offerings over the years from its first world war epic to Mog the Cat. Have they pulled it off this year? They’ve certainly thrown everything at it, humour, likeability – we can all relate to the people and scenes in the ad, a nostalgic children’s character with Kermit the Frog and festive favourites like Ricky Tomlinson, plus a sing-a-long tune. It does seem to have divided the nation, with some people irritated by the song – but think back to the Go Compare example, perhaps the catchy tune will deliver successful results. Whether it’s a winner or not, Sainsbury’s have tapped into a growing trend of using real people in marketing (we’ve blogged about the benefits of this here). Programmes like Gogglebox have been a real hit and marketers are following suit with brands like TalkTalk, Iceland and Aviva all using real people in their campaigns. There is something loveable about this low-key form of advertising and Sainsburys have done it well.

Festive favourites

So, which ad is the winner? Currently figures from BrandLove suggest that Marks & Spencer’s Paddington Bear has the highest customer engagement for a retailer in 2017’s festive campaign season. Who will ultimately win and see a Christmas sales boost is yet to be determined. So for now, we’ll end with our own personal favourites. Karen’s favourite is Sky Cinema, she feels it perfectly captures what Christmas was like as child, snuggled up on the sofa watching classic films with family. Being a mum of two girls growing up before her eyes, Nicola says she also loves Sky Cinema’s advert best. While Fran’s admitted to blubbing over the Boots ad on more than one occasion but also has a soft spot for the Sainsburys sing-a-long ad and how refreshingly different it is.




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