15 December 2016 Consumer Affairs PR Musings

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas retail sales

It should start on 24th December but over the past decade, we have all witnessed the onset of Christmas “creep”, driven by retailers airing their feel-good seasonal ads – all with a focus to drive the coveted Christmas retail sales. It’s been 10 years since John Lewis began their tear-jerking, heart-wrenching, budget-smashing 60 second mini-movies. This year’s Buster the Boxer launched on 10th November, a full six weeks before store doors close for the “official” start of seasonal festivities. Other high-street brands have also muscled in on the advent act with Argos, M&S and Boots all taking their turns to nab the elusive consumer’s attention to net Christmas retail sales.

So why have these festive brand ads become so ingrained as part of Christmas marketing when they often have very little to do with what you can actually buy in store?

The first thing is to forget the word “advertisement”. These ads don’t actually sell anything, (well not at first). At a time when consumers are consistently bombarded with sales messages, a brand experience is welcome relief. Add into that an emotional hook, something that makes you laugh, sigh or cry and your audience’s hearts are captured and in marketing terms, that’s powerful stuff! Music has been a huge part of the winning formula too. Using artists such as Ellie Golding, Tom Odell and Aurora build the picture aurally and helps consumers remember the brand every time they hear that song, and way after Christmas.

Really, Christmas ads are more like “content marketing” than product advertising. From the visual spectacular, the characters, the music and even the call-to-action, each creative treatment is made for sharing, for discussion. They will far outlast the 60 second spot in the X Factor ad break.

These Christmas campaigns have created enormous opportunity for resourceful PRs too. From ideas around the characters, the in-store merchandising, the social media executions and ‘behind the scenes’ content, they have create extensive coverage for the retailer and increased awareness around this competitive period of the year.

John Lewis has set the bar high yet there is some rebellion against the Christmas blockbuster approach. You may have seen Heathrow’s purposely low budget teddy tale or Iceland ‘Claus family’, who held their Christmas ad back to this weekend to avoid “Christmas fatigue” amongst its customers!  It will be interesting to see if there are further changes coming next year. Christmas 2017 may well be a different story…

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