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Marketplace magic & Christmas crackers remembered

By Paul Hewer - Posted on 24 December 2014

Director of Research, Paul Hewer, explores the race for best Christmas TV advertisement and looks at some of the most iconic ads from Christmas past, present and yet to come.

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas - or so the advertisers would love us to believe. We've survived the media hype that is Black Friday, the Xmas parties are in full swing and the woolly jumpers with Santa and Rudolph are all the rage. Snow may be unlikely, but the dash for a splash of marketplace magic surely gets going when Christmas comes around. Talk of sparkle and magic is everywhere and why not? People need to hang their hopes and dreaming on something. John Lennon's Happy Xmas War is Over, best conjured up this spirit in my view, with its haunting melody and words that ache with remembrance - a feeling that fraught times can be best displaced with a moment of celebration, exuberance and looking to the future.

Part of the festive distraction is the adverts. Some might see them as harbingers of the big day; wrapping paper to cover the cracks and iron out the fears. It's time to get creative and innovative in spinning those tales of magic and remembrance. There have been some crackers over the years:

Christmas past

Holidays are coming – a phrase now synonymous with Coca-Cola and Christmas.  The iconic advert first aired in 1995 and has stood the test of time with a version played every year since.  Through its festive marketing beat, the leading brand has created strong links between Coca-Cola and the warm glow of the festive period.

Now a look to the 21st century and an advert that Scots will instantly recognise.  Parodying the magical 1982 short film ‘The Snowman’, quirky brand Irn-Bru reimagined the tale: The snowman and the boy still go walking in the air, flying over iconic Scottish landmarks.  Yet when the young lad refuses to give the Snowman a sip of his Irn-Bru he is promptly dropped into the snow at George Square: an advert that serves up the quirkiness and humorous qualities of Scottish identity to delightful effect.

Christmas present

John Lewis never cuts corners in the race for best Christmas TV advert.  This year’s campaign cost £7m and took nine months to create.  The brand continued with its recipe of heart-warming cuddly characters, a memorable song and an emotional narrative with a happy ending. Story-telling gets in full swing at Christmas, and Monty the penguin was designed to win the hearts and pull on the purse-springs of parents across the land with a host of merchandising.

Sainsbury’s retelling of this wartime story has created lovers and haters of the concept but it has certainly made an impact in this year’s Christmas TV ad wars.  The tagline ‘Christmas is for sharing’ focuses around the 1914 festive truce of the First World War which saw soldiers on both sides take a break from fighting to sing carols, play football and exchange gifts.  Some might see it as distasteful to those who suffered but the search for a Christmas winner trumps sentiment in its quest to stir the emotions and get us heading down to Sainsbury’s.

Christmases yet to come

The race for best Christmas TV advert will transcend the marketing channel of television and will require a strong digital impact to contend in the future.  Many brands have already started to get the hang of this.  One particularly strong example is the 2013 Christmas viral campaign from Canadian airline Westjet.  Its ‘WestJet Christmas Miracle’ video currently stands at 37,285,502 Youtube views. The video was an instant hit across social media last year, being shared on Mashable over one million times in just three days.  This viral video wasn’t aired on television, but increased WestJet’s sales by 86% compared to the same period the year before and won a Shorty Award for the creativity of its real-time giving concept.  Or perhaps adverts on TV will become a long forgotten thing of the past with gaming ads and mobile ads being where we’re heading.

Happy Xmas (War is over) ends with John, Yoko and the kids singing:
“A very Merry Xmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear”

I wish you all a good one!

What is your favourite Christmas TV advert of all time?



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