BITE Focus

Christmas Countdown

Our pick of the best festive marketing trends

Izzy Ashton

Assistant Editor of BITE


Tesco, Everyone's Welcome
Tesco, Everyone's Welcome

2017 has felt like a tough one. It's been a tumultuous year around the world. We've seen political chaos in the wake of Brexit and the UK general election. President Trump has continued to lambast the Twittersphere, whilst Kim Jong-Un has been playing with missiles in North Korea. The #MeToo harassment stories have spurred on a global movement. Ignited by the 'Silence Breakers' who were chosen to be TIME Magazine's Person of the Year 2017.

Thank goodness this year’s Christmas ads offer some light relief. Their simpler, stronger stories are designed to land the right emotion, whether that’s laughter, nostalgia or a simple case of goosebumps. At a time of year that is joyous for so many, but so difficult for others, these ads have managed to find an emotional sweet spot, for everyone.

We've loved seeing a greater breadth of diversity in both the casting and scriptwriting this year, with some of the biggest brand reflecting the wonderful cultural diversity of their customers. As Jude Kelly said at BITE LIVE this year

“The images that come into our house and are surrounding us every day, they are the images that are telling us whether we have permission to think about a different world or whether we’d better just like stick to the world we’ve got.”

Christmas ads are supposed to be magical. Who cares if it never snows on Christmas day anymore? With their spine tingling music and all-star roster of directors, many of them feel like epic film trailers.

The Christmas ads have become a tradition for retailers, heralding the start of the madness that inevitably ensues over the festive season, which now starts a good few months before the actual day itself. John Lewis birthed the modern day phenomenon of the Christmas ad that now sees the season rivalling the American Superbowl for share-ability.

Below we’ve picked out some of the trends that run through the ads this Christmas and the brands who are delivering on the festive cheer this season.

Rose-tinted memories

For Christmas this year, a few brands have tugged at our nostalgic heart strings by either shooting in black and white or by telling a story that walks us through a life well shared. Nostalgia allows marketers to connect consumers with their rose-tinted times of days gone by. Sky Cinema and WCRS have done this beautifully through a celebration of a mother and daughter’s love of the Sound of Music, one of the first films to ever be broadcast by the channel.

adam&eveDDB's slot for Waitrose, Snowed In, was filmed at the highest pub in the UK, the Tan Hill Inn. A black and white homage to a snowy Christmas, the current landlady says she's been snowed in around 50 times since 2005. It focuses on what a community can do when they come together, with Waitrose food at the heart of the ad. The pub is comfortingly familiar while the long tables straining under the feast bring to mind disorderly school Christmas dinners and happily noisy family get togethers.

It seems everyone loves a hashtag this year including Boots, who worked with Ogilvy UK on #ShowThemYouKnowThem, which explores nostalgia through the lives of two sisters, brought back together at Christmas to swap presents that remind them of the life they have shared. The festive ad flashes back to dancefloor sing-a-longs, car arguments and playground games, highlighting the moments through 11-nostalgia inducing Boots products. 

Heathrow - Havas UK
Heathrow's bears star in a love story that spans generations

A familiar gathering

Christmas hasn’t truly arrived until you’ve had an argument with a family member over how to cook the gravy, roast a potato or the best way to light the Christmas pudding. It is the time of year where families come together to share happy moments or at the very least a Christmas roast. Morrisons and Publicis UK’s festive Free From slot is a celebration of the tiny moments in which we glimpse pure sibling love. We see a timid little sister glancing at her older brother for encouragement, from feeding Rudolph to remembering the lines for her Nativity play to, finally, what she can eat on the table.

BBC One continued the idea of ‘oneness’ that the channel has been celebrating over the course of the year. The Supporting Act is an animated film that tells the story of a father daughter relationship, that culminates in the duo performing a dance routine to a soundtrack of Clean Bandit and Zara Larsson at the annual school talent contest.

For Everyone’s Welcome from BBH, Tesco received a degree of racial prejudice from the usual hate-filled trolls for their inclusion of a Muslim family . The brand quickly shut the haters down, without engaging in a dialogue. They let the ad speak for them reminding their audience that everyone means everyone, whatever the size, shape, colour or religion of your family.

Airports are places of heightened emotion. From rushed goodbyes to long anticipated hellos, they are the places that, as the famous phrase goes, “Love Actually is, all around.” Heathrow worked with Havas UK to continue the story of the teddy bear couple, Doris and Edward Bair in It’s a Wonderful Flight. In a love story that spans the generations, the slot shows us how the couple met, taking us through their lives in the airport terminal and into the present day, when their extended family come together to welcome Edward Bair home.

Raw reality

Advertisers and marketers are, by the very nature of their jobs, totally invested in culture creation. But more frequently they are looking to content creators to partner with brands to make ads that somehow feel more ‘real’. Brands have had to relinquish a level of control over their image. Perhaps why many ads this Christmas feature real people, not actors, as the stars.

In This Stuff Matters, TalkTalk and CHI&Partners continued their TV strategy by following the Christmas of one family in an unscripted ad that lets us into their weird and wonderfully normal world. Iceland and Karmarama's ‘Tis the Reason to be Jolly features real home videos of children unwrapping their presents, dubbed over by comedians who improvised in real time to include brand product names.

Sainsbury’s have kept their Living Well campaign alive in #everybitofChristmas by Wieden & Kennedy. It is a simple campaign shot in black and white that features 200 real people, including Sainsbury’s employees, singing along karaoke style in typical festival settings. Extending the idea into the audience’s reality, the brand created a Snapchat #SingSprout karaoke filter with AnalogFolk that allows users, if they so wish, to turn their heads into a brussels sprout.

Encouraging people to sing a long is a festive habit that begins when we’re at school and never seems to cease. In Christmas is Coming Together, Co-op worked with Forever Beta to bring together different people from the community for a new rendition of Blur’s musical hit Tender. Filmed in Manchester and the North West, where the brand originated, the cast is made up of a pensioner’s choir, a vocal rugby team, urban beat boxers, a ukulele group and a Manchester reggae group.

Paddington - M&S
M&S tells us how Paddington saved Christmas

Spinning a good yarn

Telling a brilliant story, or being told one in return, is a powerful exchange. A good story can grab your attention, hold you in that moment and linger long after it’s over. From bedtime stories to a good audiobook or a powerful novel, the context in which you read or hear the story, and the person who is telling it, are as important as the content itself. For brands to tell a convincing, captivating story, the tale must align with their own values.

M&S magically brought to life the nation’s best-loved bear with Paddington & the Christmas Visitor from Grey London. The ad took four months to make and uses the same set and voices as the Paddington films, although it tells a unique tale. It is a carefully told extension of the hit films, that nonetheless aligns with the M&S tagline, Spend it Well. The brand’s message is not lost amongst the glittery loveliness of the bear’s story.

Debenhams borrowed an oft told tale with their reimagined Cinderella story, #YouShall from J. Walter Thompson London. It tweaks a few aspects of the story, making Cinderella a heroine in her own right and featuring a diverse cast. While it tells a heart-warming story, it doesn’t really seem to link back to the brand at any point. H&M however, put products at the heart of their storytelling in A Magical Holiday created by Forsman & Bodenfors, which features Nicki Minaj and Jesse Williams as parents, as well as the fairy-tale stars of their daughter’s magical bedtime story.

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