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Christmas Marketing

All I want for Xmas is a successful campaign

By Steve Looney, Research director



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September 28, 2018 | 6 min read

Dear Santa,

What if you want a great Xmas campaign, but don't have John Lewis' budget?

This year I would like an ad campaign that is so entertaining and memorable that everyone remembers it and talks about it. Also, it needs to go viral, shouldn’t cost the earth and delivers our best Xmas sales figures ever.


Worried marketing director

If only it was that easy… as the kids go back to school, the sun tans and memories of summer begin to fade, ad land will already be busy working on campaigns to win our hearts and wallets this December.

We don’t have a magic recipe for success I’m afraid, but, having spoken to 1,000’s of consumers about Xmas adverts, the Opinium brand and comms team thought we would give an early Xmas gift to those stressed marketers worried about this year’s campaign and discuss themes from recent success stories.

Branding is for life so why not for Xmas?

It’s interesting that at the most competitive advertising time of year so many brands get carried away with all the other stuff they forget to tell us who their fab ad is for. There are numerous examples over recent years of this happening, however, a recent example of success in this area is the Cadbury “Advent Calendar” execution that the chocolate giant has used for the last 3 years. It showcased the distribution of Cadbury’s own contribution to the festive season throughout the UK and with the unmistakable Cadbury Purple blazoned throughout the ad.

Amazon ran with a similar styled execution last year that performed very well, and, at a time of year where storytelling is highly prevalent, McDonalds succeeded last year with a lovely father and daughter story that had the brand entwined in the narrative.

The learning here is unashamedly obvious and not exactly new, but it clearly needs saying - don’t get carried away and forget about your brand. At a time of year when cut through is key and a lot of ads can end up looking the same, the brand must be involved in whatever narrative you are telling.

To celeb or not to celeb?

One short-cut to getting some brand recognition is to throw a celebrity in there, nothing wrong with that, but at Xmas time, with no previous connection to said celebrity, it can be a double-edged sword. Currys/PC World thought they were onto a winner when they brought the brilliant Jeff Goldblum in, back in 2015, but sadly that campaign sank without trace as consumers just didn’t understand it at all and dear old Jeff didn’t help land the desired messaging. Ruth Jones’ Tesco family from the same year didn’t really inspire either in the more traditional setting of a supermarket.

Use celebrities wisely but please don’t bank on their mere presence alone to be the defining element of the campaign… there is talk of Elton John and John Lewis teaming up this year which could be interesting to see how that might work out.

Christmas decorations

Let the ears do the talking

And talking of music, it’s not a new trick to put a booming music track in an ad, but it’s becoming increasingly important at Xmas to aid cut through and memorability. In the world of downloads, if the song from the ad strikes a chord it gets downloaded, gets radio time and, with a strong link to the execution, brings back memories of the ad. John Lewis has had some hits and misses over the last decade or so but you don’t always have to use a headline track to make your ad memorable. In recent years consumers have responded very positively to less well-known music used by brands like Aldi, Sky, and Cadbury, heightening the enjoyment of their executions in recent years.

It’s more fun to laugh than cry at Xmas

Enjoyment is another interesting area for Xmas advertising, surely one of the most fun times of year, but time and again many brands have gone the other way and have taken a much more emotional and over sentimental approach. Frankly consumers aren’t that interested. John Lewis are a great example here - Buster the dog literally jumped out of the screen. Fantastic visuals coupled with a great uplifting music track catapulted Buster to be the most enjoyable ad of 2016. In comparison their “Moz the Monster” was nowhere near as impactful.

Of course, everything can’t be played for laughs, but consumers want to have fun at Xmas so make sure you entertain and don’t become oversentimental wallpaper.

It pays to recycle at Xmas

Our final observation from our consumer feedback will be music to the FD’s ears; “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. Some of the most successful ads we have seen in the last few years have been used again by the brand. Xmas is a time for nostalgia, tradition and familiarity; people liking doing the same things, listening to the same Xmas songs. Coca-Cola obviously has the market cornered on the most recycled Xmas ad, and its now part of Christmas, like Slade and Mariah Carey. The expectations on Xmas advertising has become hugely increased in recent times but if you’ve found yourself a winner and you need to save a few £’s consumers are more than happy to watch the same ads, in the same ad breaks, in the same films as last year.

And on that note, can we be the first to wish you a Happy Xmas.

Steve Looney is research director at Opinium

Christmas Marketing

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