What Christmas ads can teach you about marketing


T’is the time of year where Christmas adverts are being rolled out on, what seems like, a minutely basis. Although early November might be considered too early or a bit premature for anything related to Christmas festivities, marketers know it’s got to be done.

There’s a lot more to these adverts than simply a signal to all those Christmas-fanatics to start their Christmas shopping and begin playing their favourite seasonal songs on repeat (cue sighing Scrooges). It’s about the effect they have on us as consumers, from the first impression and over time as they get played more and more.

What Christmas ads can teach you about marketing

The history of Christmas ads

For a while it’s been said that Christmas celebrations can begin the moment that the Coca Cola advert is first played on TV, some now reckon it’s all decided by the John Lewis advert. Obviously, there are the aforementioned Scrooges out there that disagree with this entirely, but anyway…

Just why and how have Christmas adverts become such a big deal?

Over time, we’ve seen a wide array of Christmas adverts from big brands – some good, some bad, some iconic, some simply forgettable. We all have our favourites; personal favourites of all-time and personal favourites of each year’s selection. They’re a source of much excitement (or many Scrooge-sighs), as well as much discussion.

Year on year, we’ve seen Christmas adverts stack up from simplistic product marketing into Grammy-worthy blockbuster hits – mini-movies which we don’t mind watching over and over again. In fact, we want to see more.

In the festive marketing of 2016, we’ve almost said a complete farewell to the traditional images of Christmas in television advertising.

This year, the face of Father Christmas, his loyal reindeers, and helpful elves have been replaced by a dog that loves to bounce, a carrot called Kevin, and the lesser-known Mrs Claus. As bizarre as some of these replacements may sound, they all work. They’ve done well in the past few weeks of viewing to stick in our heads and get us talking.

But is this ‘So long, Santa!’ attitude going to stick? We shall see in early November next year, I guess.

How Christmas advertising works

How have these adverts gained so much association with the festive period? What is it about Christmas adverts that work from a marketing perspective? How do they have such an effect on the mind of consumers who are sitting and watching TV in the November and December months?

We decided to look into what it is about these seasonal marketing campaigns that keeps us all interested…

The anticipation:

Like we’ve already said, it’s widely (but not wholly) acknowledged that once the first Christmas strikes, it’s time to get in the Christmas spirit. In my personal opinion, what’s the point in saving the build-up to only a week or less before the big day? I’m not saying that we should get the decorations up as soon as the Halloween décor comes down, but the build-up to Christmas is often the best part – it gets the excitement started, and gets people thinking about their plans.

That’s my thinking on a personal basis (aka the decorations in my flat, around my workspace, etc), but that’s actually very much the view that marketers need to use. Scrooges or not, they need to make the most of the much-anticipated season and get their adverts out there at the right time. Christmas marketing has to start reasonably early if you want it to work properly for your business.

The emotional appeal:

Most of our favourite festive adverts can be put into the following categories: the ones that make us smile, the ones that make us laugh, and the ones that make us sad but then happy again. Basically, Christmas adverts thrive off our emotions.

That’s exactly why they have such an impact on us. They pull us in, in a way that we relate to the storyline, and leave us suitably uplifted and excited for the festivities ahead of us. The years of Christmas advertising have seen this done in so many different and innovative ways.

Interestingly, some feedback has been that John Lewis failed this year because they didn’t deliver on their typically tear-jerking Christmas ad. It looks like Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot and his emotional journey from a pre-roast dinner slumber to the sleigh of the one and only Father Christmas might be the real cracker this year.

The creativity:

Speaking of – it doesn’t look like we’re ever going to run short of new and creative advert ideas to get our emotions twinkling at Christmastime. Even as time goes on, every year sees adverts with an unexpected edge; a unique concept that hasn’t been seen before.

Making sure your marketing campaign holds something a little bit different is so important. You want it to stand out from the crowd, whatever time of year. Of course, Christmas is a time that is full of clichés and traditional imagery – so how do you break away from that? You’ve got to think outside the box!

Take Sainsbury’s 2014 Christmas advert for example. Set during WW1, the advert reminds us of celebrated moment of history: the Christmas day truce between British and German troops. Along with the message ‘Christmas is for sharing’, this bold marketing move didn’t fail in pulling on the heartstrings of the public. Full of power and positivity, this advert brought on a fabulously festive feeling without the need of Christmas trees or Santa’s face.

The follow-ups:

In a day and age that’s obsessed with the internet and social media, there’s no point in just stopping with the advert. You’ve got to push it, promote it, and preach it as a brand.

John Lewis is one stand-out example, without a doubt. One year they filled their stores with lifesize Monty the Penguins and other related props that children (and over-excited adults) could pose with, and from that, no one will ever forget that penguin. This year, Aldi followed in their footsteps and have introduced limited edition Kevin the Carrot toys to be sold in their stores – genius.

Social media is also a huge thing for any brand, and John Lewis never fails to make the most of their social media at Christmas time – their hashtag will, and always will, go viral on Twitter. This year, we’ve already seen the hashtag for John Lewis’ #BusterTheBoxer blow up on social media, along with Aldi’s #KevinTheCarrot and Marks and Spencers’ #MrsClaus – to name but a few.

Succeeding in going way beyond being a simple television commercial and expanding into other social realms is all about creating something that sticks in the minds of the consumers, so much so that they want to keep talking about it.

The much-loved John Lewis adverts

We can’t really have a post on the festive marketing without going into more detail about the John Lewis advert, can we? With their first popular Christmas ad coming onto our screens back in 2007, they’ve built up a real reputation nationwide for outstanding and much-anticipated adverts over the years.

In short, they’ve hit the marketing jackpot: in the minds of consumers, John Lewis advert = Christmas. (Sorry Coca Cola, you might have been overtaken here).

Using the perfect combination of music, good storylines, and imagery, the well-known department store smash it year on year. Those noughties-style remakes of iconic songs from Elton John, The Smiths, Oasis and John Lennon, mean we can’t help but sing along when they come on – even you Scrooges out there can’t resist.

They just get their emotional balance so right, every single year. There’s always something quite loveable and relatable in a John Lewis advert, no matter who you are, and that’s what helps us to love them.

There’s always something quite relatable in a John Lewis advert, no matter who you are, and that helps us to love them. I mean, just look at those puppy dog eyes.


Now, go get on with your Christmas shopping – it’s almost the beginning of December after all.

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