Christmas advertising: Selling sentiment by installments

In the run up to Christmas 2012, The Drum asks some of the top creative directors in the UK to tell us what they think makes a great Christmas ad.

Over the series of articles, find out what each of them thinks...

Neil Lancaster, creative director of McCann Manchester and one half of the creative team behind the Aldi ads, is the first to discuss what Christmas ads means to him.

Neil Lancaster, creative director of McCann Manchester

I blame Charles Dickens. He sold us sentiment by instalments, now we’re feasting on the stuff every Christmas.

My it tastes good! I’ve been guzzling it from the Morrisons campaign; sucking it till my cheeks were red from the Asda and Sainsbury’s ads; and - just when I thought I might be a lickle bit ‘icky - squeezed a few drops out of The Co-op’s willing teat, too.

Tummy rubs all round.

Where do they get schmaltz from these days, though? I’ve been told that some clients have hordes of Mums at their disposal; a kind of giant penal battalion of opinion; a gulag of life-givers; these ladies are questioned at length and with the promise of a biscuit asked about the heroic levels of commitment mothers have to obtain in order to ensure a perfect Christmas.

Their responses have surely ghost written the commercials you see this year. Magical snowman apart, we now have ‘real’ Christmasses on telly dressed in the new austerity.

Times are hard. The home interiors have a noticeably reduced circumstance, the cheery Red, Green and Gold ribbons of Jamie’s Christmas Past have been put away.

Even snow, it seems, isn’t welcome. Too middle class?

The same planning process may have replicated itself at a number of agencies as there is a peculiar sameness across many of these ads. They have a protestant ethic; the Christmas Cromwell wanted us to have. This all makes ‘strategic’ sense of course, the recession is real enough, but the end result is that I can’t seem to distinguish between these campaigns.

How to get more standout? Adam & the Ants? John Lewis attempts, and many believe succeeds, by telling us something more about ourselves. The new commercial and its forbear are clearly about love. As a consequence our affection for the brand is as inevitable as Christmas Night following Christmas Day.

The chain will clearly sell out of its red ladies gloves and berets. Good Johnny Lewis, not Bob Cratchit’s Christmas, appears to be the success of the season.

One of the wonderful things about working in advertising is that we get two Christmasses a year: the first when we unwrap the briefs in September, the second in December when we’re busy with the Easter campaigns. There’s a febrile, elvish mood in the Creative department anyway, which is always further ramped up when Santa Claus comes a calling.

At McCann, we have a special affinity with the Fat Elf.

Legend has it that many years ago we changed his once green robes into the red and white colours of your favourite Cola. Who says ad agencies don’t give anything back?

But hark! Is that not Lionel Ritchie calling me back to the TV screen?

I must away for a tangerine and a silent tear.

And so, God bless Us. Every One!

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