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RedPill's branded video review: Who won the Christmas ad battle?

Who won the Christmas ad battle?

Every fortnight, RedPill reviews three new or relevant branded videos and assesses the reasons behind their social performance. RedPill’s rating system scores videos across five categories (awarding a maximum of 20% for each category): originality; on brand; creativity; craft; and shareability. The sum of all five scores produces a rating out of 100%.

Christmas always comes earlier and earlier it seems, to the joy of retailers everywhere. These days the season is denoted by the arrival en masse of the Christmas adverts, those heart-warming spectacles of consumerism. Which ones worked this year?

Sainsbury's Official Christmas advert 2016 | The Greatest Gift

Rating: 87%

The strongest of the three, Sainsbury’s ad succeeds in finding that niche space in which a TV advert works nicely as branded content. It achieves this through its balanced mix of treacly sincerity and sarcastic jokes. From the train delayed by a single snowflake, to the head bobbing clones at work, the humour has a nicely acid tone that accurately captures most of our experiences with the season. Christmas time tends to feel this way - simultaneously ludicrous and genuinely moving.

The genius of this strategy is that it taps two of the most powerful share mechanics available to marketers - the sentimental and the humorous. Add in the online star power of James Corden (though personally I think we’ve hit Corden-saturation levels now) and you have a piece of branded content that intelligently uses influencer marketing as an asset to amplify its shareability, rather than simply tap into a captive audience.

Aldi Christmas advert 2016 | Kevin The Carrot

Rating: 82%

Aldi’s been making a name for themselves in the Christmas game with their tongue-in-cheek adverts, and this one is a great example. From seeing the glass of scotch (which I’m sure Santa appreciates more than milk), you have an inkling of what’s coming. By the time the advert ends, we’ve seen the anthropomorphised carrot flay himself, and end up on a suicide mission to help children get their toys. The grandiosity, the adventure and self-sacrifice of Kevin the carrot does give this video a mythical feeling, more than earning the tagline of ‘Legends aren’t born, they’re grown.’

Turning a Christmas meal into a house of horrors for a carrot isn’t the most obvious way to sell the good cheer of the season, but it stands out as an antidote to the rest of the heartwarming families-come-together melodrama that dominates this time of year.

Coming Home for Christmas | Heathrow Airport

Rating: 68%

Heathrow’s thrown its hat into the ring as well, with some teddy bears that can surely be purchased at the duty-free shops. I was quite impressed with how accurately this ad captures the numbness after a long holiday flight, that state of mind in which even lifting your suitcase feels like too much work. But what should be the kicker - the moment when you finally see your family and all that effort is worth it - falls completely flat. Why are the teddy bears grandparents? What is Heathrow trying to say here? That when your family is outside of your immediate sphere they are inanimate objects? Like some sort of inverted Toy-Story world? For what seems like such a great start, I was hoping for a much better moment to cap it off.

John Lewis Christmas advert 2016 | #BusterTheBoxer

Rating: 78%

And now we get to the big daddy of Christmas adverts. John Lewis has decided to take a less tear-jerking approach this year, but Buster the Boxer is still an animal designed to strum your heartstrings - with his big dark eyes and droopy face, how can you not help but love this dog?

However, the rest of the ad lacks the personality of Buster. We’ve seen all the ideas before. The animals jumping on the trampoline is a staple of online viral videos, the slow-motion flopping to sweeping music is such a standard trope that it’s used constantly in Marvel movies, and hard cut from that slow-motion to real-time with diegetic sound is the standard approach to deflate those grandiose moments so they don’t feel to self-serious.

But if John Lewis was also behind the video of Buzz the boxer, then I forgive all the above. Because that is true content marketing genius - it’s a great way to show off the impact of your ad in a subtle and entertaining way that feels truly native to social media.

It also inspired to create this brilliant parody. As an American still recovering from the election, it certainly hits close to home.

Matthew Davies is a director at RedPill, a specialist agency working with the world’s most exciting brands. RedPill focuses exclusively on influencer marketing and branded video, covering content strategy, creative, video production, and organic distribution.