Advent of the Christmas campaign blitz

We’ve never had anything like Superbowl advertising in this country. In the US, the four-hour finale of the American football season is as much about watching the ads as the contest itself. Every American brand aspires to be part of the biggest annual event in marketing.


But something interesting is happening in the UK this year. We are developing a focal point for our own retail brands: the Christmas campaign blitz. While it’s true that Christmas, which can account for up to 75 per cent of a store’s annual profits, has always been the most important period for retailers, the growing focus on Christmas communications in recent years is incrementally different from seasons past.

Retailers are spending more money and much more effort in prelaunching and promoting their campaigns in the run-up to the holiday season. Their advertising has become news in itself, and consumers are responding in kind. The past week has seen a flurry of debate and criticism about some of these new campaigns.

If we are to follow the Americans, we also need to critically appraise the campaigns from the big players; this year there are four worth noting.

John Lewis: the originator, 7/10

If any brand can be held responsible for starting the Christmas campaign blitz, it must be John Lewis. Since 2008, the retailer has been making an increasing effort with its Christmas TV campaign aimed at being a “real appointment to view” each year. The retailer’s success, despite the troubled British high street, must be partly attributable to the strength of its Christmas strategy and a consistent campaign that straddles the years with a clear positioning of “thoughtful giving” and a classic reworked pop song. This year is no exception with a touching story of snowmen with the act of giving at the centre of the ad. The retailer deserves plaudits for continuing its Christmas theme but may be a victim of its own success. Other retail brands are following its approach of a big campaign with a heartwarming message. It’s the classic market leader’s dilemma as competitors copy and perhaps overtake its original strategy.

Tesco: the traditionalist, 8/10

Tesco gets a high score for meeting one simple but deceptively difficult challenge - not doing anything new. The brand has had a difficult year and there has been much clamour for it to urgently change its approach. How impressive, therefore, of Tesco to not alter its core positioning at a time when everyone at the company must have been tempted to try something radical.

As Tesco’s marketing supremo Matt Atkinson puts it: “‘Every Little Helps’ has never been more relevant to our customers and business. We want Tesco to play a small but important part in everyone’s Christmas plans by helping with those elements that make it Christmas”. Plaudits too for its new agency Wieden + Kennedy. Often new agencies suggest new straplines. Instead, we have something festive, familiar and bang on brand. The execution, so far, is unlikely to set the world on fire. But in times of change it always makes sense to play your strongest, most familiar branding elements and Tesco has done just that.

Asda: the accidental provocateur, 9/10

What else is there to say about the most talked about campaign of 2012? Some 186 complaints to the ASA, acres of column inches and thousands of Tweets - and the campaign is less than two weeks old. It’s clear that Asda did not expect any of the furore that followed its slice-of-life campaign showcasing how hard mums work at Christmas. In its defence, there is a difference between a stereotype and a market segment - it’s called data. And Asda used tonnes of it to create the campaign. Yes, there are single dads and yes, some men do help around the home, but the majority of Asda homes will recognise the campaign and it will resonate. The ad itself is relatively bland but the ensuing debate that will follow it into Christmas will ensure an excellent performance among its target market.

Chanel No.5: special mention for being bonkers, 0/10 

Despite a history of producing glorious Christmas campaigns for its signature fragrance, Chanel has truly jumped the shark with Brad Pitt this season. Pitt is actually a consummate actor but the look on his face in the ads screams a vivid combination of shame and confusion. “Help me,” his eyes seem to be saying, “I don’t understand what is happening here. Help me.”

But the biggest winner this Christmas season is TV. For all the shrieks about social media, good old TV advertising is still at the heart of big brand strategy. Yes, the social media diaspora does help to fan the flames, but the fire is still burning bright from the box sitting next to the Christmas tree in the corner of the room.

For the latest Christmas campaign news, comment and analysis click here

Readers' comments (5)

  • Brad Pitt did it for me. I wonder if other female viewers will agree with me :) I did not see "help me" in his eyes.

    John Lewis - how boring and slow. Snowman wearing gloves. Had to rewind it!

    Did not see the rest.

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  • I totally agree that the Chanel advert is bonkers, ludicrous even. But then scent adverts tend to be so when I saw Chanel's latest creation I wasn't surprised.

    What did surprise me was that Brad sold out.

    I think a special mention should go to Waitrose's advert, which is a message of giving to charity. Well done waitrose for donating the money that would've been spent on making the advert and also to Delia & Heston for waiving their fees.

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  • I loved the John Lewis advert - those adverts really instill the magic of Christmas.

    The Asda advert physically distresses me - I watch that woman being run ragged and her other half has the nerve at the end to say 'What's for tea, love?' I'd punch him, but no-one can cry sexism if it's based on cold, hard statistical evidence.

    The worst one by far was the Chanel advert - what a load of nonsensical drivel. It wasn't aspirational and it generated no desire for the product itself. Just self-important, pseudo-philosophical garbage.

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  • Well Asda may have gone straight for their target market and used 'copious amounts of data' to back it up, but I really don't think sticking two fingers up to other market segments - DADS - is a good idea for any brand!

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  • I particularly enjoy these kind of articles. Inevitably one must chime in with reviews of my own.

    John Lewis: Snowman love story. Raymond Briggs Snowman rip-off set to solo vocal version of Frankie’s Power of Love. Assumed target audience: Daily Mail reading 80’s throw backs.

    Tesco: A shabby looking mum wondering around deserted supermarket aisles finds a Furbie singing Lionel Richie’s Hello. Yes, you read that correctly. Utterly soul-less with hardly any effort made at all. Oh, they did put a paper hat on the “o” at the end. Assumed target audience: Hapless pillocks.

    ASDA: Xmas Doesn’t Happen By Magic. A whirlwind run through of the events leading up to the big day including the shop, decorating the house and the meal itself, all done by mum. Set to an up tempo Poguesy version of Silent Night. Assumed target audience: Busy Mums. Bang on.

    Not sure why you left out Sainbury’s & Waitrose?

    Christmas Days at Sainsbury's. A series of short stories based around chocolate, mince pies and being good for Santa. Makes sense but wait, A Girls Night Out? Since when was that one of the 4 pillars of Xmas? And all set to the music of Andrew Buchan. About as festive as The Wicker Man. Assumed target audience: A desperate attempt to get everyone, hence the fail.

    The Waitrose School of Christmas Magic. Featuring tips and food ideas from Delia Smith and Heston Blumenthal all set in a Hogwart’s style school, complete with hovering sieves. 2 genuine stars, an inspired setting and some high end production values. Assumed target audience: Opinionated, pretentious middle class tw@ts like me.

    And how can Mark ignore Aldi having sung their praises so highly a few weeks ago? Their ad is a nice little exercise in re-positioning the competition, done on the cheap ( of course) while still managing to be mouth-watering. Assumed target audience: Sensible types who see through the hype.

    However, all these ads are a waste of time and money. I’ll be doing my big xmas food shop at the co-op. why? Because its nearby, stupid.

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