With the winter holidays fast approaching, ‘tis the season of uncertainty… “Will I finally get that date I’ve been yearning for?” and “Will Aunt Martha show up sober to our Christmas brunch this year?” Personal holiday woes aside, the festive season also brings several certainties – overbearingly cheerful music everywhere we go and a mixed bag of seasonal adverts from money-hungry businesses.
If you’re tired of horrifying festive adverts like this and are eager to learn the secrets behind heart-warming and engaging holiday campaigns like the ones produced by UK retailer John Lewis, read on to find out more…
Speaking to the heart
Although a relatively recent phenomenon, the popularity of Christmas adverts in the UK reached new hieghts in 2007 when John Lewis made their first big budget production: Shadow. Utilising products and shadow play to convey their message of gift giving, it revolutionised Christmas adverts and drove businesses to seek new angles beyond traditional push marketing. When John Lewis began their collaboration with advertising agency adam&eveDDB in 2009 to create Sweet Child o’ Mine – a video inspiring shoppers to relive and share the wonders and magic of Christmas from their youth – it raised the bar for production standards even higher. Coined the “John Lewis effect”, epic Christmas adverts became the norm, inspiring other companies like national supermarket chains Sainsbury’s and Waitrose to follow suit.
John Lewis’ 2018 advert launched on November 14. Titled “The Boy and the Piano,” it featured the talents of Sir Elton John as himself, and delved far into the history of his lustrous career before revealing his motive for pursuing music – focusing on a piano that has been with him since the day he received it on Christmas as a young boy. Although the video received some heat from fans for not being “Christmassy” enough, with some even accusing John Lewis of selling out to promote the new upcoming biographical film on the singer and his farewell tour, the latest edition ultimately does indeed symbolise the messages of Christmas. Similar to their 2009 advert, it inspires us to think back upon our own childhoods, delighted by the gifts received from our parents.
Whether we’re reminiscing about Elton John’s career or evoking imagery of our past, the reason why John Lewis’ adverts are so effective is because they promote wholesome Christmas values of sharing, generosity and family – without explicitly providing a call-to-action to purchase their products. According to Harvard Business Review, “the role of advertising, outside of creating brand awareness, would be to reinforce the differences among brands to build a brand’s distinctive reputation.” By creating and sharing messages that are relevant to consumers, John Lewis was perceived as a brand that fits consumers’ lifestyles.
Christmas cheers and Cokes
Coca-Cola is one of the most iconic and oldest brands to use Christmas as a theme in their marketing. Beginning in 1920, Coca-Cola has used Santa Claus as their mascot and cemented his image as the jolly guy with an unmistakable white beard and Coke red outfit. In addition to Saint Nick, polar bears also debuted in 1922 as Coca-Cola’s second Christmas mascot.
You might be wondering, of all the things in the world that Coca-Cola could have chosen, why a character from a fairy tale or a couple of goofy polar bears? To begin, Santa Claus was a character that everyone knew, and his actions of selflessly giving gifts and spreading cheer around the world very much symbolised the spirit of Christmas. Furthermore, Coca-Cola did not depict Santa as some super-being with incredible powers, rather, the brand humanised him and illustrated him as a caring and relaxed person – who enjoyed a refreshing soda after a hard day’s work. The humanity behind Coca-Cola’s interpretation of Santa made him relatable to the average consumer. And because he was a seasonal icon, the brand could safely and effectively bring him back every year as their marketing symbol.
The polar bears were no different. Instead of showing them as just a couple of lumbering beasts, they were anthropomorphised with human attributes and facial expressions. Much like Santa, they were shown to enjoy the small things in life –watching sports, basking in the northern lights or simply sharing a Coke together. “That’s really what we were trying to do – create a character that’s innocent, fun and reflects the best attributes we like to call ‘human’,” says Ken Stewart (the creator of the 1993 animated commercial Northern Lights).
Personalised and interactive festivities
Hong Kong’s The Landmark shopping centre has always been a popular destination for tourists and locals alike to bask in Christmas cheer. Most notable for their “Wishes Come True” campaign in 2015, the mall’s large atrium was converted into an installation featuring dozens of animatronic teddy bears running a “wish factory” – complete with an animated television advert to illustrate the story behind it.
Visitors were encouraged to write their dreams on special paper tokens before submitting them to the onsite “wishing machine”. In addition, an augmented reality app allowed visitors to customise their own teddies to create sharable “Santa Paws” greeting cards.
The campaign was a clever collaboration between The Landmark and the Make a Wish Foundation (Hong Kong). Instead of simply asking people for donations, visitors were given a wonderful narrative highlighting the creation of dreams. Proceeds were then donated to the Foundation – channelling the Christmas spirit to help children in need.
While Christmas may indeed be the season of commercialism, some companies do so with more tact. Regardless of budget, scale or size, a good Christmas campaign represents the season’s spirits and delivers a narrative that audiences can quickly associate with. In other words, it’s all about clever storytelling. So the next time the winter season rolls by, spread that festive cheer around with the help of your friendly copywriting elves!