Why Christmas ads will never be the same again

The 2016 Christmas ad season seen brands use tried and tested tactics to play on viewers’ emotions. While nostalgia and humour never fail to make us smile, this year old tricks aren’t enough to capture the viewer’s attention. As mobile and social increasingly power display, brands are turning to digital to reach consumers.

John Lewis launched its much-anticipated ‘Buster the Boxer’ Christmas campaign, but this year with its first-ever Snapchat filter allowing viewers to send Buster themed snaps to friends. Tesco and Asda have ditched their main Christmas ads to focus on a series of shorter videos capturing “Christmas moments,” putting customers at the forefront of their campaign.

As consumer viewing habits continue to change, brands are evolving to focus on a mobile-centred market. This season, ‘Buster the Boxer’ surpassed 1,949,387 shares across social media making John Lewis’ ad the most viewed this holiday season. However, mastering the art of the Christmas ad is not easy and if brands are to continue to succeed they must tune in to consumer demands.

This year for the first time mobile ad spend outpaced that of desktop, with video up 67% from the year before. Taking consumer viewing habits into consideration, the decrease in screen time means viewers often fast forward ads or turn to their mobile devices during TV slots, making mobile the most valuable option for brands looking to catch viewers’ attention during valuable ad time.

Emotion is essential to driving viewer connection with the brand. No one has done this better than John Lewis which used both the 2015 ‘Man on the Moon’ and 2016 ‘Buster the Boxer’ campaigns to play on nostalgia and pull on viewers’ heartstrings. As mobile is the most personal device, emotions translate better across a small screen where brands are more likely to capture viewers at their most vulnerable, making them more attentive to ads.

Brands are already starting to get smarter with mobile; integrating both content, formatting and relevance to create a complete customer experience across the platform. For Christmas ads timing is key and, while brands need to be among the first to release their ad, they also need to be wary of running it too early and being overlooked in the season’s top Christmas campaigns. In 2017 we will continue to see brands play on emotion as a key factor when curating content. By delivering both sad and cheerful moments, brands create an emotional ‘rollercoaster’ for the viewer, using an item or image that everyone loves – an animal or a common theme – to help trigger emotion and create resonance with the viewer.

In order to boost engagement, brands must format their content correctly. Video formats need to adapt to fit all devices, sticking to vertical video on mobile and keeping videos short – no more than fifteen seconds in length. As the average internet user’s attention span is nine seconds, easy-to-load, short, and viewable video content is essential for brands who want to boost engagement rates. Using a clear countdown on the creative to help users identify the ad and incorporating branded in-line video content enhances the user experience so the audience becomes aware of the brand. However, formatting is only part of the mix and if brands fail to nail the content and timing they run the risk of being unable to create a connection with the viewer.

In 2017 brands will need to create new ways to engage with consumers. Listening to user feedback is key to developing brand-driven content that is relevant to the target audience and placing that content on the right platform. Personalisation will continue to be a growing trend as interactive video takes front and centre stage in the new year. Rather than delivering an autoplay or click-to-play video, brands will need to learn how to involve viewers in the experience. For example, implementing multiple choice questions half way through the video, allows users to choose their own story ending and makes the experience unique to them.

Finding new ways to personalise content and engage mobile audiences is key to optimising ad spend in the new year – and brands who don’t will ultimately miss the mark.

Quentin Le Pape is chief executive and co-founder of MOBKOI

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