Trend

Please tell me the Christmas ad is going to make us cry again this year!

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic striking the right tone in Christmas advertising is vital, but that doesn’t mean we should call peak Christmas or shy away from emotional connection, writes Simon Lloyd, CCO of dentsuMB.

Simon Lloyd, dentsumcgarrybowen UK

Chief Creative Officer

Share


It’s 32 degrees. We’re all wearing t-shirts. It’s the August bank holiday weekend. And I am looking at a fairy-tale town covered in snow. However surreal it was when I was shooting Excitable Edgar for John Lewis & Waitrose last year, I don’t think anyone on set anticipated just how surreal Christmas 2020 would feel.

We’ve seen it all this year, including an earthquake in Leighton Buzzard. The British public are going to arrive at Christmas more than a little dazed and confused. There are families facing serious financial challenges. Companies facing financial ruin. Among them retailers, normally the first to advertise at Christmas, have been hit the hardest.

Perhaps a bit of festive escapism away from all the drama of the last 12 months is exactly what people are after? Isn’t Christmas pure escapism anyway?

Simon Lloyd

The search for silver linings

But it hasn’t all been bad. A lot of good has come of this too. I am not sure the advertising industry would have ever agreed to the en masse work from home culture we see taking shape now, had it not been for this invisible enemy. Kids will remember the summer of 2020, when school was out, and parents were home. People are selling up and flooding into the country, willing to take a hit on longer commutes if they are only coming into the office a couple of days a week. If this continues, then the work life balance of many people should be improved. And potentially improved forever.

So, with further lockdowns imminent and a family gathering of more than six hanging in the balance, what is the right tone for marketers to strike this Christmas? Perhaps the big budget tearjerker isn’t quite right this year? But perhaps a bit of festive escapism away from all the drama of the last 12 months is exactly what people are after? Isn’t Christmas pure escapism anyway? Perhaps humour, rarely used at Christmas, might be a great antidote to the endless negative news stories. The PC World spots with Jeff Goldblum still stand out for me, for this very reason.

The great Christmas advertising bonanza 

In the last decade, Christmas has very much been the battle of the blockbusters. It seems hard to imagine that when I first joined adam&eve in 2009, Christmas advertising wasn’t really even a thing. Let alone a thing a brand like John Lewis would own.

In an ever-changing world, the familiarity of a festive story seems to be the thing people strive for most; sitting back and being comforted by a tradition as entrenched in the modern day as Santa and mince pies. It’s a conversation both the industry and the public enjoy, as the tabloids wrap up the best ads of the year and the breakfast shows talk about which one they like the most. But could that be set to change? Did we reach peak Christmas in 2019?

If there is one thing we can be sure of it’s that consumers are going to be shopping online more than ever before. Sitting in front of laptops and phones rather than TV screens. This could be a significant challenge to the ‘linear story’ model. I am a great fan of work that takes a different shape; brands such as Burger King and Paddy Power, being the masters of this. Surely smart, flexible and modular digital work could really make the difference this year? All the more powerful if it appears both in and around the buying experience. Being able to adapt your assets and republish in line with the current situation and mood could prove incredibly useful. Rather handy at the moment, when it feels like the world can change overnight.

Advertising is sometimes very easy to ignore. But not if it makes you feel something.

Simon Lloyd

The craft of Christmas advertising

But let’s also remember it’s not all about what you make. This year, it’s also about how the hell you actually make it. Due to COVID restrictions, shooting this year has been a huge challenge. And unlike Coca Cola, most brands can’t just rerun the same film year after year. At the beginning, shoots were just cancelled altogether. Right now, in October shoots are beginning to start again. However odd they may be. Much like working from home, remote shooting was always laughed off as an impossible dream. How wrong we were. The development in technology to enable these productions to take place has been truly staggering. I have shot in both Bali and Argentina in the last week. All without leaving my living room.

So, whatever you are able to shoot, animate or create, here are five key things worth considering when navigating Christmas this year:

Take it seriously. This is an immovable deadline. Get your shit together or it isn’t going to happen.

Emotion. Emotion doesn’t mean you have to cry. Laughter is an emotion. Joy is an emotion. You can feel something without being reduced to tears. 

Know your audience. I do a lot of work with students and schools. While visiting a sixth form class to talk about John Lewis, the teachers were beyond excited. The kids themselves? No idea. Teenagers are on their phones, iPads and consoles. Not in front of a TV. Just remember who you are talking to.

What’s your cuddly toy? Some of the most shared images during the John Lewis & Waitrose campaign last year were the cuddly toy, the chocolates in store and the pyjamas. This level of merchandise is not always possible, but the ‘photo op’ moment is always worth considering in advance.

Keep talking. If people engage with your campaign, comment, share or question your content, talk to them. The dialogue is invaluable, and your consumers will remember you as a result.

So, whatever Christmas looks like this year, it will be different. And that’s for certain. Advertising is sometimes very easy to ignore. But not if it makes you feel something. And, in a year where we’ve all felt lonely, afraid and uncertain, the winners this year will be the stories that make you feel something else, whatever form they take.

But then again, I have just come back from the school run. A mum stopped me and said: “Please tell me the Christmas ad is going to make us cry again this year!” Maybe some traditions are worth holding onto.

Guest Author

Simon Lloyd, dentsumcgarrybowen UK

Chief Creative Officer,

About

Simon Lloyd is Chief Creative Officer of dentsumcgarrybowen UK (dentsuMB). Prior to joining dentsuMB, Simon worked at several high-profile London agencies including Glue, Isobar and Adam and Eve DDB. During his long career he has worked with the likes of Unilever, Stella Artois, John Lewis, Innocent and Nokia. His award highlights include Gold wins at Cannes Lions, Campaign BIG and One Show, success at the British Arrows, Creative Circle, Eurobest, Webbys and D&AD, where he is also a juror of both the student and professional awards. In 2020, Simon joined dentsuMB where he is responsible for the creative output of the UK.