Putting this year's festive ads to the 'would I want to spend Christmas with them?' test

When I was a kid, Christmas was all about Christmas TV specials: Morecambe and Wise, The Two Ronnies, Disney Time, Billy Smart’s Circus – a simpler age when there were only three channels and you all sat round the telly watching stuff together with Dad getting the final say.

John Lewis – knows how to do a good Christmas

In our new multichannel, multiscreen world, this Christmas ‘event’ telly has made a bit of a comeback with the likes of Dr Who and Strictly Come Dancing. And now even the adverts are getting in on the act.

M&S kicked off the trend for Christmas ‘event ads’, enlisting the help of various supermodels and celebrities and now everyone is at it. It does not feel like Christmas is on the way until mince pies and advent calendars are in the shops and the John Lewis Christmas epic is on the box complete with a store full of merchandise.

This has led to the current phenomenon of retail Christmas epics with almost all of the major retailers producing special Christmas ads ranging from mini blockbusters to feel-good flicks, and airing them in prime time slots during X Factor and the like. What’s more, all of these Christmas ad specials are receiving more and more column inches and air time with every pundit and cultural commentator putting their two pennyworth in.

So this has got me thinking. How do you judge which of them are crackers as opposed to unwanted secret Santas? With time the full forces of ‘metrics’ will come to bear down on all of them – from soft to hard, from brand awareness to sales delivery, from likeability to ROI – but while we are in the ‘delicious’ space of the unknown where we share our opinions and speculate on motives, are there any ‘heuristics’ (or ‘rules of thumb’ in old money) that might give us a steer on their future?

Well – I’ve got one that I’d apply to these ads. It’s just my opinion and your are all free to disagree with it but it provides a point of view to debate if nothing else.

I should, I feel, at this stage declare a self-interest as I work at McCann Manchester where we produce the advertising for Aldi, including its latest Christmas work. So in the spirit of fairness and goodwill to all men (and women) I’ll restrict my comments to non-grocery retailers including Boots, M&S (non-food), Debenhams, Harrods and the like.

I apply the ‘Would I want to spend Christmas with them?’ rule. Quite simple really – does their advertising give the impression of a place and people that I would like to spend Christmas with as an invited guest? A bit of a self ‘projective’ technique if you like.

Here goes with the WIPXWT (Would I spend Xmas with them) test:

Definitely – Deck the halls with boughs of holly

John Lewis – what is there to say about this that has not been said already except they do like the sort of family that have happy children and do happy family stuff so I would expect a jolly Christmas day with a few good inclusive board games, family TV sessions whilst we pass round the Quality St and plenty of Christmas cheer (ie booze).

Mulberry – I just want to have a few Christmas sherries with Grandma and disgrace myself during the Queen’s speech.

Matalan – Everyone loves to show how much they care with a bit of ‘charity’ action but at least I might get one of those scarfs as a little socking filler / token gift.

Maybe Not – The turkey has given me indigestion!

M&S – My Christmas day would be an ordeal of sulky teenage girls constantly on their iPhones telling everyone how boring it all is and how that new shirt is too young and tight for me.

Debenhams – ‘Christmas is for children’ my host would tell me as her kids tear around the house demanding the TV channel changed, their Xbox games played and tantrums over each other’s presents.

Boots – Welcome to the glum house where everyone buys their presents at the last minute and wraps them on the bus and then gathers together to tell Mum the cat has just been run over.

This is all highly unscientific but does give you a quick point of view – maybe I can flog it to someone (or maybe even flog someone) as next year’s Christmas ad theme complete with matching Christmas Day family game merchandise.

Bon Noel!

Jamie Peate is director of strategy and insight at McCann Manchester

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