Thought Leadership

Great advertising is for life, not just for Christmas

The festive advertising season, the UK industry’s equivalent of the Superbowl, successfully has the nation talking over their teacup. Yet the power of long-term marketing investment to build both brand and business momentum is not seasonal.

Nicola Kemp

Managing Editor, BITE

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When you are tired of Christmas advertising, you may not be tired of life; but a career in advertising may not be right for you. For the festive advertising season, the UK industry’s equivalent of the Superbowl, successfully has the nation talking over their teacup. The discussion surrounding which ad is crowned the nation’s favourite has this year focused on The&Partnership’s joyful drumming Argos spot and John Lewis delivered with Excitable Edgar.

The industry was equally excitable in its discussion of which ad had ‘won’ Christmas, a discussion which has become as much of the part of the fabric of Christmas advertising as John Lewis’ annual festive bonanza. Of course, while the top spot is highly contested, the real battle is for consumer spend on a UK high street which increasingly appears to be one Amazon drone delivery away from disaster.

Regardless of which ad came out top for you this Christmas, advertising topped the mainstream consumer agenda once more. Yet the power of long-term marketing investment to build both brand and business momentum is not seasonal. With this in mind, we asked a range of industry experts to have their say on if great advertising should be for life, not just for Christmas.

Have we all forgotten that communicating effectively with real insight, actual benefits and unexpected human truths are actually the name of the game?

Nathalie Gordon

Nathalie Gordon

Natalie Gordon.jpg

Creative Lead

Freelance

When I was asked to write this, I thought I’d tap out a few philosophical sentences about the rise of the Christmas epic. But as the news of Paul Silburn’s tragic death sweeps across our networks and people continue to share his most memorable work (John West’s bear fight, numerous iconic Nike posters, Stella Artois’ Reassuringly Expensive, Top Bombing with Peter Kay for John Smith, Scalextric’s ‘Sorry’), I found myself asking a different question; are any ads actually any good anymore?

Five minutes of looking at his work will tell you that Paul didn’t make work just for Christmas, he made it for life. He didn’t want to dazzle award juries but instead, ordinary people. And he wanted them to pay attention. To care. To remember.

And I wonder, do we? Have we all forgotten that communicating effectively with real insight, actual benefits and unexpected human truths are actually the name of the game?

Just ask yourself this: when you are an industry great, and you unfortunately pass, what ads of yours will they share? What worlds will your work help change or shape? What work will you be remembered for? And if you cannot think of anything, don’t fear, just be a bit more Paul Silburn about it all. 

Simon Gregory

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Group Strategy Director

BBH London

I love Christmas ads. Dancing carrots, mitten-clad snowmen, turkeys on the barbecue and burping stockings. It’s brands and the marketing industry at their emotional and excitable best; connecting to culture and entertaining the nation.

But whilst we all love a good dose of ‘the feels’, the festive season is increasingly becoming the most important battle of the year. With Christmas sales accounting for up to two-thirds of annual revenue for some retailers, getting it right is no longer a Brucey Bonus.

The trick for marketing is to not view Christmas as something distinct or one-off. To instead, connect it to a broader ambition or goal. Whether it be to build trust, improve quality scores, or convince parents that this year’s N64 is as easy to get delivered as the usual weekly shop - yes, I’m old. The Christmas efforts need to contribute to a bigger story that a brand builds over time.

As an industry threatened by short-termism and an inability to prove our wares, advertising must continue to focus on how it can help in the long, short and mid-term. But if you can work out how best to use it, why not point it towards the funnest time of the year and enjoy yourself.

The season of goodwill has a stronghold in the hearts and minds of advertising professionals, brands and most importantly, customers.

Tammy Ridgeway

Tammy Ridgeway

Tammy, Keko.jpg

Senior Copywriter

Keko London

As much as it saddens us advertising folk, Christmas is one of the only times of year when people actually look forward to the ads. The season of goodwill has a stronghold in the hearts and minds of advertising professionals, brands and most importantly, customers; at least in 32% of the world where it’s celebrated.

This is partly because we’re all primed and ready for that warm and fuzzy influx, curled up on the sofa watching the Gavin and Stacey special, scoffing Quality Street and Baileys before midday - no, just me?

And it’s not just the telly that has us captivated. Thanks to those big fat budgets and the media spend that follows, we’re bombarded on digital and social platforms with a festive feed of epic proportions. But before we get too wrapped up in it all, excuse the pun, we should remind ourselves of these key facts: not all advertising has the luxury of money, and, there’s the other 68% of the globe to consider.

At Keko London, our recent campaign for Taylor’s Port took a tipple associated with Christmas and reminded everyone that there’s more to it than a roast dinner aperitif. And that’s the beauty of great advertising; it’s not just for Christmas. As creatives and advertisers, it’s our responsibility to make sure our ideas reach further and last longer. It’s a challenge, sure. But isn’t that why we’re all in this business? 

Dave Day

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Executive Creative Director

Crispin Porter Bogusky

It is indeed, but then that statement assumes the Christmas advertising we’ve seen to date is by default, great? I’m going to go all ‘bah humbug’ here. While there are some lovely Xmas gems out there that surprise, delight and are what the very best advertising should be about (Ikea being one), there’s also a lot of big-budget, lazy, ‘meh’ work. Copycat emotional heartstrings stuff, with endless nostalgia layered over the top.

But OK, I digress. What is it about the very best Christmas ads that exemplifies the very best of advertising? First and foremost: differentiation. The reason I like the Ikea work? Because it’s not another poor man’s John Lewis. It’s distinctive, surprising and therefore memorable. Whether it’s a Christmas ad at all is debatable but it represents so much of what ‘Great’ advertising means. Above all it cuts through, and you don’t do that by replicating what’s been done a dozen times before. This time of year is rightly regarded as the UK’s Super Bowl, our opportunity to flex our creative muscles as an industry. Now imagine if that American ad break was littered back to back with this year’s Christmas offering and ask yourself, ‘what would I remember?’

[Christmas is] the one small, frosted window of opportunity in the year to do what advertising does best: to entertain and to spread some joy.

Amelia Redding

Amelia Redding

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Planning Director

Leo Burnett

‘Twas the night before Christmas...correction, the month before Christmas, but these days it can feel like nothing is stirring in ad-land before Christmas.  Stirring, meaning moving people to feel something and to lodge in hearts and minds.

When I think (way) back to the brand campaigns that inspired me to go into advertising, the biggies like Tango, Martini, Levi’s, Hamlet, they all moved me in some way: they were entertaining and fun, and the best were a little unhinged. People, not adfolk, talked about them and loved them and still remember them. And the best of the best campaigns endured for years.

With the effectiveness of advertising diminishing and the ‘crisis in creativity’, it seems that all the feeling, excitement and joy that helps brands grow, is now crammed into the brevity of Christmas.  It’s the one small, frosted window of opportunity in the year to do what advertising does best: to entertain and to spread some joy.

My Christmas wish this year? That brand-builders, agency and client, would live, not just talk, the value in making advertising that stirs, not just for Christmas but for life.

Jamie Peate

Jamie Peate, McCann Manchester.jpg

Head of Retail Strategy & Head of Effectiveness for UK

McCann Worldgroup

There’s an old truth in advertising that really great advertising makes the new seem familiar and the familiar seem new. If ever there was a time of year when this true it is at Christmas, the time of year when advertisers desperately want you to notice and consider them, but also a time when getting the correct balance of tradition and novelty will result in either success or failure.

Christmas is the time of year when brands and retailers who do not advertise for the rest of the year pile into the market. So, to have any chance of being noticed and remembered you need to break through the clutter and generate a strong positive emotional response across all your touchpoints. Yet it is also has to reassure that it is full of the spirit and joy of Christmas, the time of the year when we positively relish eating the same food, singing the same songs, watching the same movies and playing the same games that we do every year.

Kevin the Carrot is enjoying his fourth successful year with Aldi this Christmas because he is able to generate all the traditional love of Christmas that Aldi needs to be part of, while being able to entertain in new ways and showcase Aldi’s Christmas range to the full.

Perhaps the greatest gift Christmas advertising offers is cultural: an escape from the persistent gloom; permission to believe in miracles, even if only temporarily; and the enduring importance of kindness.

Lori Meakin

Lori Meakin

Lori Meakin, Joint.jpg

Founder

Joint

In our excitement at the annual festive feast of creativity, let’s not forget that great advertising’s purpose is to drive value for our client’s businesses. Disproportionately important as Christmas is, particularly for retailers, that business impact always lives way beyond the festive season.

Christmas advertising is vital fuel for retailers, who deliver over £90billion of GVA for the UK economy each year, according to the ONS 2018. Which should make life better for the nation long after the fairy lights have been put away.

Of course, advertising’s value goes beyond the economic. It adds to the nation’s creative and cultural capital too. And that’s never more apparent than at Christmas.

Britain’s ‘Superbowl moment’ showcases craft skills and creativity which must help recruit talent, particularly young people who may not think advertising the sexiest of careers.

But perhaps the greatest gift Christmas advertising offers is cultural: an escape from the persistent gloom; permission to believe in miracles, even if only temporarily; and the enduring importance of kindness. Our Amazon film showcasing a Vicar and Imam’s friendship feels as pertinent today as it did in 2016, whether it’s Christmas or not.

We must challenge ourselves to continue those positive messages, even as the cold realities of 2020 hit.

Jemima Monies

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Deputy Managing Director

adam&eveDDB

I am a big fan of Christmas. It’s my favourite time of year. And now I have little ones, it’s even more special. So, I love the fact that our industry has added to the excitement and build-up with its own Christmas Super Bowl moment heralding the start of the annual festivities. Whatever your Christmas ad tipple, or the social media stats, the advertising feels, for the most part, festive and joyful. And it’s here to stay, given a large chunk of the retail industry’s annual sales come in the months leading up to Christmas.

But why limit creative ambition to the Christmas quarter? As we all know, modern consumers are complex and diverse. They are hungry for constant distraction, too. Just look at uptake of and consumption levels for Netflix; a powerful demonstration of our appetite for entertainment that transports. Of course, it can’t be Christmas every day. But maybe in an era when we crave engagement and entertainment more than ever, it’s time for adland to spread some Super Bowl magic to other parts of the year, too.

Great advertising doesn’t just go beyond Christmas; it goes beyond advertising.

Colin Byrne

Colin Byrne

Colin Byrne, Publicis Poke.jpg

Group Creative Director

Publicis•Poke

Christmas is the only time of year when that beloved bunch we call consumers reluctantly turn to us and say ‘Come on then. Show us what you’ve got.’ It has become a sort of televised pantomime with every brand desperately trying to avoid coming out as the rear end of the pantomime horse. But why is so much focus and investment placed on this season of goodwill? Well, aside from it being the only time of year we’re not hated by just about every Jesús, Mary and Joseph, a good or not-so-good Christmas can make or break a retailer, so the opportunity warrants the investment. But great advertising doesn’t just go beyond Christmas; it goes beyond advertising.

Great gets noticed. Great ads cannot be contained or controlled. At the core is an idea so strong, so resonant that it quite literally takes on a life of its own; a living idea, if you will. It can silence the entire living room, pub or cinema and quickly becomes social currency people want to share. Surfer. Cog. Cake. Meerkat. These greats of our time were so potent that they still hold their place in the public lexicon detached from, yet resonant of, their mother brands. Very few Christmas ads can claim to have done this and so goes to prove that the greatest ads are those that live long in our minds, long after the media money has run out and can come from any brand, at any time, not just Christmas.

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