The Secret Marketer: Penguins and peace look good on screen but only TK Maxx’s Christmas ad will make me buy

This year’s Christmas ads are beautifully crafted but I fail to see any commercial logic in most of them and don’t know what the message is meant to be, except for one retailer.

I have been somewhat amused (and bemused) by this year’s Christmas adverts – and no matter what you feel about them, we can but only sit back in awe at the creative film-making capability that exists within our industry. The sheer quality of these ads would put many a movie director to shame.

But therein lies my dilemma. I was brought up in an era where ads ‘should do what they say on the tin’, and – as a few people have pointed out to the Advertising Standards Authority – you would be hard pressed to know what Sainsbury’s has got to do with the 1914 Christmas truce during the First World War, or the direct relevance between John Lewis and a furry Antarctic flightless bird called Monty.

In fact, I have the vaguest suspicion that a few ad directors got carried away, having forgotten who their client really is, equally egged on by a CMO more motivated by winning a Cannes Lion award than furthering the revenue growth of their business.

Don’t get me wrong – I am all for creative expression – but as someone who didn’t understand the praise piled on Cadbury for its drumming gorilla or Benetton for its shock tactics in the 1980s, I’m not convinced there is commercial reasoning behind these things.

Having looked through the various Christmas ads – from the little girl manning the gingerbread stall at her school’s Christmas fair against her will, or the man rummaging in his attic for fairy lights to adorn his local supermarket, to a man diving into the sea while an eagle watches on, I am at a loss to know what action I should take as a result of watching these very expensive reels. I am not even sure I feel any different about any of the brands either.

In fact, the only ad that really does it for me is TK Maxx. Here is an upbeat, fun advert, stacked full of the products the retailer sells – with a very clear message that if I go to my local outlet, I am going to be able to find just what I need for all those long-lost uncles and not so lost, but much harder to buy for, friends and family.

While the TV schedule at Christmas is stacked full of repeats, and dreary reality programmes, it says a lot that it is the adverts that provide the entertainment. The concern – as a marketer worried about return on investment – is that I am unconvinced that these adverts are actually going to shift a single product line – other than the ‘You. By me’ approach from the country’s hottest retailer.

Hide Comments3 Show Comments
  • golfpunk 26 Nov 2014 at 1:25 pm

    I thought the Argos ad was great. Product focused but worked well for the brand as well, and improved my perception of it. Modern but very broad in its appeal. And a great sound track. Good piece of work.

  • jhibble 26 Nov 2014 at 2:25 pm

    I really enjoy the Boots advert – feel a much larger emotional attachment to it than the others.

  • S Bough 4 Dec 2014 at 1:42 pm

    Very strange point of view and showing your age I am afraid. We get bombarded by product specific advertising all year and Christmas, the time of good cheer etc, is a prime time to promote the feel good factor of your brand. I am pretty sure that most people under the age of ‘showing my age’ know what these stores’ product offering is. A happy middle ground are the Argos ads, very different for them and while reiterating their products, does it with fun and very well produced creative.

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