Brands forego epic storytelling to focus on the joy and excitement of Christmas

Retailers have previously tried to beat John Lewis at its own game but this year are finding their own ways to promote their brand at Christmas.

Christmas advertising has previously been dubbed the UK’s ‘Super Bowl’ but campaigns this year are less about the festive ad epic and more about reaching consumers with a message about the joy and excitement of Christmas.

In previous years brands seem to have taken their cues from John Lewis – looking for campaigns that would stir the emotions and give people a warm and fuzzy feeling about the brand. Think Sainsbury’s World War 1 story in 2014 or Boots’ tale of the family that waited for their mum to come home from work before celebrating celebrating.

And while most are still sticking to the John Lewis formula of brand over product, how they communicate their brand is changing. Gone (for the most part) are the big emotional epics with a focus instead on emotion that fits more with their brand personality and wider marketing strategies.

Moving away from the Christmas ad epic

Take Marks & Spencer for example. At a press briefing last week (6 November) the retailer’s marketing boss Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne said the brand would be “moving away from the Christmas ad epic” to instead focus on seven shorter ads based around ‘The Art of Christmas’.

It is a continuation of the campaign it launched two months ago, with Bousquet-Chavanne explaining why it made that decision, rather than coming up with a new creative idea just for Christmas.

“‘The art of’ just started in September and I felt we had to continue with that so we don’t break the mould that early but obviously make it festive for the season. You get the same feel of what one M&S is; the synergy, the tone of voice and the sophistication that is in those creative ideas so it works well together.”

Other brands have followed a similar strategy. Morrisons’ marketing director Andy Atkinson says it is looking to promote a consistent brand image through a focus on fresh food and its staff. Even Lidl, which has launched ‘School of Lidl’ for Christmas, says it will be a campaign that runs beyond the festive period.

Stirring the emotions

That isn’t to say that the advertising this year isn’t aimed at stirring people’s emotions. Neil Saunders, managing director at Conlumino, explains that given the rise of internet shopping just focusing on product and price is not enough.

“The problem with focusing on products without much emotion is that it is boring and also is harder to convert into business, namely because products are often available online and in competitors,” he says.

“Retailers want to do two things. First, they want to create a strong presence for their brands so that they remain foremost of mind among those doing their festive shopping. Obviously a more emotionally charged advert has a greater chance of being remembered. Second, they want to create a wider halo around the brand that makes consumers think favourably of them.”

This is so important at Christmas, says Argos’ marketing director Stephen Vowles, because Christmas “is an emotional time for customers”. “Customers are less just functionally orientated at Christmas so brands have to be too.”

‘Heartbeats rather than heartstrings’

It’s just that those emotions are more often aimed at making us excited about the festive season rather than weepy this year.

Take Argos’ campaign for example. It focuses on a high adrenaline ride down a mountainside with skiers and snowboarders accompanied by some of the products found at Argos and a focus on its delivery options.

“Our emotional piece is about heartbeats. Other brands have been very successful pulling on the heartstrings.”

Stephen Vowles, marketing director, Argos

Lidl, meanwhile, is taking a comic approach while Asda, Morrisons and Aldi are all hoping to capture the fun and magic of Christmas.

Of course the TV ads are just one way of reaching consumers this festive season and these big brand spots will be supported by more tactical ads talking up product and price.

For example Morrisons is running a series of 10-second shorts featuring deals such as two for £2 on chocolate selection boxes.

Vowles explains: “Brands are best built through advertising that speaks both to the rational and emotional side. What we are trying do is speak to the rational in a way that is distinctive and speak to the emotional in a way that is different to other brands.”

Yet for Saunders, it is still the John Lewis ad that comes out on top.

“Burberry’s ad is a visual masterpiece and creates a great emotional pull through the popular British personalities it features. Asda’s upbeat number is very jolly and taps into the idea that everyone needs to treat themselves at Christmas. Argos’ advert is interesting in that, while it does show some product and is Christmas themed, it has chosen to focus on its service.

“But as usual I think the John Lewis ad stands out in terms of its emotional appeal. It resonates because it speaks to the values most of hold at Christmas – showing people that we care about them and that we are thinking of them.”