The Battle of the Christmas 2012 ads

Screengrab of Delia Smith and Heston Blumenthal in Waitrose's Xmas 2012 ad

Waitrose Christmas 2012 TV ad –
cheap and cheerful.

The battle of the Christmas 2012 ads has reached a crescendo. Not only is the advertising industry buzzing about it, even consumers are, with Netmums publishing research into families’ reactions to the superstore ads. According to the Yummy Mummies who were interviewed, 83% say their families look forward the seasonal ads of the big brands, and 55% claim they help foster the Christmas spirit in the family. Also, 23% get gift ideas from the ads while 20% admitted that their favourite ad influenced where they buy their presents. And when it comes to festive food, almost 30% of mums claim the ads influence where they shop. If all this is true then it is no wonder that the big brands spend so much effort on their Xmas TV advertising.

So I took a look at the top 10 ads revealed by Netmums and the results are in the table below. Whilst I accept that the number of YouTube views is by no way proof of an ad’s success, I have put them in as I believe they do indicate the resonance an ad has with the public. Put simply, the higher the number of views, the higher the viral factor. Also in the table are the agencies that created each ad, and my own comments.

Table showing Netmums' Top 10 Christmas ads 2012

All I want for Christmas is YouTube

The John Lewis ‘Snowman’ ad, which has provoked so much comment was voted first. Like its 2011 version, it’s an expensive ad, filmed in New Zealand, but has probably provided a healthy return to John Lewis in sales and branding. Sarah Druce, Creative Director at MARS London, said that “the John Lewis Christmas ads have proved to be a game changer and a standard setter for the genre”. But I also think Mark Ritson got it right when he makes the Superbowl ad comparison. Every year it will now be expected to be better and is a “victim of its own success”. However, some are claiming that the ad trails rivals for converting shoppers.

Screengrab of Asda Xmas 2012 TV ad

Asda ad – showing mum is behind every Christmas

Of the rest, Druce comments that “it’s almost as if some of our leading retailers got together in a room and agreed on a theme for Christmas 2012.” At no. 2 is the Asda ad, with the theme “Behind every great Christmas there’s mum and behind every great Christmas there’s Asda”. This is really well done and shows a mother tackling the highs and lows of Christmas, although, as Druce says in another article, “it’s not going to win any awards, but at least it’s true to people’s lives”. However a few hundred people have complained to the ASA that it stereotypes women and is “sexist”, Mumsnet has had thousands of complaints in its forums, and Fathers 4 Justice have threatened to occupy stores in protest. In reality, this is inevitable given the social make-up of the UK and the many means for people to view ads as well as comment on them. Ritson excuses it on the grounds that the creative is driven by data – 80% of Asda’s customers are busy mums – and Rosie Baker reminds us that advertisers such as Iceland, P&G, Boots and Asda which have mums as the centre of their campaigns “should not be vilified for reflecting truisms”.

The remainder of the superstore ads are pretty forgettable, sticking closely to the ‘festive’ and ‘family’ theme, and eschewing celebrities. See M&S, Morrisons, Aldi, Debenhams, Boots, Tesco, and Matalan. The exception is the Waitrose ad which stands out from the lot not only because it features celebrities (yet again it’s Delia Smith and Heston Blumenthal) but also for its creative execution where they just stand in a bare studio and talk about how much Waitrose is giving to charity as a result of not making a glitzy ad. This is brave and very relevant to the austerity we’re all facing but whatever it might have done for the brand you wonder what it has done – or not done – for sales.

Of the superstores not in the Netmums’ poll, Sainsbury’s, like Aldi, have chosen to produce a series of short ads this year, whilst Co-op have opted for safety. Of the non-superstore ads, Coca Cola have created a predictably festive ad, and Barclaycard have impressed with a ‘Toy Story’-like ad with a James Corden cheeky-chappy voice-over. However, two brands have under-performed: HMV is leveraging its dog and gramophone heritage to produce a series of weak and mystifying ads, and a special mention should go to Chanel for its stinker of an ad featuring Brad Pitt. Ritson gives it zero – and rightly so. Apparently it was filmed by the director of the film ‘Atonement’ but one wonders how he will now atone for this crime against TV ads, let alone Christmas TV ads. Still, it has the highest number of views on YouTube, and this is probably due to it being an international ad and featuring the Hollywood heart throb. 

Table showing list of other Christmas 2012 ads

Christmas 2012 ads campaign objective – indulgent theatre or added value?

This brings us onto the issue of campaign objectives of the big brands. In the quest for the ad to rank highly in entertainment terms in the consumer’s eyes, no doubt egged on by the big ad agencies themselves who love to create a piece of indulgent theatre, perhaps the real objectives are taking second place. I’d argue that ads should be measured by the MCS litmus test of whether they add value and if they achieve cut-through.

Ultimately, they should increase sales or build the brand – or both. Consumers need to be re-assured in their choice of store or brand, but the benefits also need to be communicated. The glitzy ads of Debenhams and M&S fail here, so does Waitrose. The depressing Morrisons ad doesn’t re-assure me in the way the Asda one does. In times like these, the benefit-led ads such as Aldi (prices), and Boots and John Lewis (ideas), trounce the indulgent ads.

Grab of Chanel No.5 ad featuring Brad Pitt

Chanel ad is the Pitts and makes no scents.

There’s also the integration issue – which campaign will enable maximum integration across available channels? Christmas is a time where the advertising clutter is greatest and the noise in the marketing funnel the loudest. Those brands that have creative that can be leveraged across some or all of POS, press, direct mail, social media, outdoor and online display will achieve the most cut-through. And lest we forget, the noise is even greater now that the consumers are talking to each other via social media about your brand.

Any ad that leverages social will benefit, and John Lewis’ story of the snowman has captured the hearts of many romantics giving it a great viral score. It’s difficult to see which other brands made this a target priority. However in defence, Ritson says “for all the shrieks about social media, good old TV advertising is still at the heart of big brand strategy”, and he’s right. And let’s not forget that many of these ads are featuring in front of video content in online versions of newspapers, with M&S appearing in Daily Mail videos as an example.

But let me end on the issue of social media with the excellent Facebook Christmas campaign by Stella Artois. True the brand doesn’t seem to have an ad out so far this Xmas but this social campaign ticks all the boxes in terms of engagement and virality – you can send yourself, or a friend, a digital Christmas card which involves a beautiful woman (actress Alice Eve) journeying to your very house, using Google Street View and Maps technology, and on arrival at your door sings you a song, gives you a beer and presents you with a personalised card. Now that’s clever.

Merry Christmas everybody!

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As well as administering New River Marketing, Richard Fullerton is also a Business Partner for MCS, an independent marketing services agency. This article has also been published at Marketing:Blogged.

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