By John McCarthy, Opinion editor

November 4, 2021 | 5 min read

High street chemists Boots has launched its big Christmas advertising push. The Drum speaks to its chief marketing officer, Pete Markey, to learn more.

The integrated campaign, #BagsOfJoy, stars Bafta-nominated actress Jenna Coleman as the titular Joy. Viewers get to follow her wonderful journey as she discovers her bottomless bag of gifts and uses it to bestow Christmas presents upon everyone she cares for.

The campaign is by The Pharm, the WPP partnership team dedicated to Wallgreens Boots Alliance, and was directed by Tom Hooper. It benefits from Eve Stewart’s production design and a 45-piece orchestra, recorded at iconic Abbey Road Studios, which was conducted by Rachel Portman OBE – the first female composer to win an Academy Award.

Boots says the ”extraordinary protagonist of the campaign... is the bag itself”, not Coleman’s Joy. And the object serves as a metaphor for Boots stores up and down the country being able to dispense such joy with each.

Markey proudly introduces what he’s told is Boots’ most integrated campaign ever. Through the years it has always looked to connect the Christmas feel-good factor to in-store footfall and sales, and some new technologies this year – such as shoppable TV and programmatic radio and out-of-home – can do just that.

The campaign will be using first-party data to personalize some of the advertising experiences. That will be easiest to do with some 15m Advantage Card customers. These efforts are newly coming into the TV space too with shoppable ads – Markey says there is a media-first in partnership with Sky Media. These product-led shoppable TVCs with QR codes will run in some video on-demand platforms, including ITV and Channel 4.

The marketing needs an ”immediacy”. Markey wants viewers to be ”able to get that gift straightaway”.

Markey’s amazed at the adoption of the QR code in the last year and finally has faith that the British public can, and will, use them to buy products at his stores.

Although some advertisers have been coming to market early this year, Boots hasn’t moved – it’s genuinely the ”key moment”, attested by the fact M&S and John Lewis launch ads on the exact same moment. Markey says: ”There are some really strong trading plans that overlap with this launch. We have a whole month of special Black Friday deals... so it is just a good moment for these things to work together probably more closely than they’ve done before.”

Markey joined Boots early in 2021, when the brand was picking through the results of the previous year’s campaign. Its summer campaign, ’Feel Good’, was his ”first big” execution for the brand.

”It worked really well for us in terms of shifting brand metrics to helping us grow market share, helping us deliver a very strong commercial performance. It was all based on insight around people coming out of lockdown wanting to feel good again.”

This time around, the brand has learned to listen this Christmas and leans on the key insight that ”people want to go all out” this year to make up for the largely lost 2020 season. ”We know people didn’t have a proper Christmas last year. We didn’t get to be with loved ones. We didn’t get to hug each other. We didn’t get to give gifts.”

Boots is making it as easy as possible to ”go all out” with some more performance-based elements of the traditional Christmas campaign.

Laurent Simon, chief creative officer at VMLY&R London, who worked on the campaign, said: ”With so many people unable to spend the holidays with their loved ones last year, we wanted to encapsulate the pure joy that people will feel this year as we reclaim lost time. Boots is a brand baked into the fabric of British culture, and it has been an exhilarating journey to bring its Christmas campaign to life with such incredible talent behind us.”

The campaign will see the three-minute online film and 60- and 30-second edits across TV and VOD. These were launched on TV on November 6 during Jonathan Ross on ITV.

There will be activations across TVC, online, radio, DOOH, print, PR, social and in-store. Where possible, Boots will use geo-targeting and personalization tech to drive people to their nearest stores.

The campaign is expected to reach more than 18m adults.

On supply chain slip-ups and potential risks to Christmas, including lockdown, the retailer has regular and rigorous meetings in place, Markey concludes. ”We just review overall where there are any emerging challenges and emerging opportunities. We also have a hotline through to our suppliers. We’ve got a really tight set of processes in place. We’re confident around where we stand today. I think we’re set for a really good Christmas.”

Additional reporting from Hannah Bowler.

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