The science behind a cracking Christmas campaign revealed

The science behind a successful Christmas campaign / John Lewis

The annual Christmas advertising blitz is a huge industry, worth £6.4bn to the UK economy. And while it’s the season of sentimentality the competition is fierce; brands often employ as many tricks as they have at their disposal in order to win as sizeable a share of the Christmas buying frenzy as they can.

But what makes a festival ad campaign a success? What are the ingredients that pull on the heart strings and the purse strings of consumers at this time of year?

Global digital agency Wunderman’s lead data scientist Niki Foteinopoulou, explains: “We all love the John Lewis ads and they have consistently been the most viewed each year. The retailer could be seen as the architect of the modern, secular ‘holiday’ ad and the release of its annual (non-votive) offering can now legitimately be seen as a key moment in the festive calendar.

“However, John Lewis is facing increasingly stiff competition and its hold over the Christmas season is loosening. At the start of the decade the company and, to a lesser extent Tesco, dominated the online viewing figures. This changed when Sainsbury’s crashed the party and arguably raised the bar with ‘1914’.”

To that end Wunderman has trained its Loom AI tool on the past seven years’ worth of broadcast TV ads, to spot any trends and anomalies that might determine the recipe for successful Christmas ads.

Of the most often-repeated elements the tool identified in the ads, ‘songs’ topped the list with 92 instances. That’s in line with research from the Advertising Association, which found that 1 in 5 people in the UK typically associate a song or artist with a Christmas advert, with Coca Cola’s ‘Holidays are Coming’ having been voted the nation’s favourite song to feature in a Christmas advert. Similarly The Snowman theme and Lily Allen’s cover of ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ are first and foremost associated with Christmas ads, having featured in Irn Bru adverts and John Lewis’ 2013 advert respectively.

‘Songs’ was followed by ‘food ’and then ‘happiness’ in terms of repeated elements across the analysis. ‘Christmas’ or at least something the tool identified as being sufficiently Christmas-y doesn’t is in joint fourth place with ‘cooking’ with 43 instances.

Predictably and correctly, dogs and puppies appeared in 16 ads over that time frame. Additionally, what Loom terms ‘dog-like mammals’ appeared in one further ad. That, correctly, makes adverts featuring dogs more popular than those with cats, which only appeared in 11 of those ads.

As fuel for the flames for those who believe Christmas is becoming too commercialised and less traditional, Loom only recognised a ‘choir’ in eight instances and a ‘church’ in only one. Despite that, Foteinopoulou argues that the advertisements themselves are less visibly brand-centric than you might imagine:

“One of the long-standing criticisms of secular Xmas is the rampant consumerism, yet it may be surprising that the most popular ads are fairly understated, with brands only appearing on a total of 28 occasions. Rather, the ad makers are focused on making us feel warm and fuzzy to encourage us to open our wallets.”

Evidently there is a halo effect around having the ‘best Christmas ad’, both for the brand associated with it, the songs used within the ads, and audiences for whom the coming of the Christmas ads marks the beginning of the festive season.

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