No Christmas blog would be complete without mentioning Elton John’s trailer for his 2019 Rocketman film…I mean the latest John Lewis ad. John Lewis’s Christmas ads are quite rightly held up as the shining example within the industry of how to do Christmas. Often emotive, occasionally funny and sometimes both – they’re ingrained in our Christmas psyche. Whether you love it or loathe it, it’s beside the point – you will watch it several times and you know it’s John Lewis and you will associate it with Christmas. The problem is that then you get other brands and agencies chasing the John Lewis legacy of owning Christmas and before you know it you’re getting carried away in trying too hard to produce something overly emotive or funny rather than something that will do justice and fit with the brand you represent.
Looking generally at the supermarket ads over the last few years, with a couple of exceptions (Sainsbury’s WW1 ad from 2014 particularly comes to mind), they all seem to blend into one. It’s usually a nativity play or some montage of families with variations on Christmas and the little nuances that make the big day familiar, cue dad falling asleep in the arm chair…again. Or you get the other side of the John Lewis coin and see a succession of high street ads that pull at the heart strings, often someone not getting to see a family member or friend, or seeing something that reminds them of someone special in their lives, to then be reunited with said person at the end gift in hand, tears in eyes, standing by the Christmas tree and hugs all round. The point being is that by following the well-trodden path of past successful Christmas ads that others have laid down and producing an ad that you hope people see and subsequently petition for a new category of Oscar, you actually end up producing wallpaper.
We’ve all been there, no matter which side of the agency / client fence you sit on. A briefing where you’re asked to mimic the characteristics of another brand, whether that’s the emotion of John Lewis, the tone of voice of Innocent or the disruptive nature of Red Bull. It sucks the life out the brief, but more importantly the brand itself. And whilst it’s okay to follow a formula or take inspiration from a brand time to time, you must always keep the focus on yourself and how you want to do things.
The one supermarket exception is Aldi. Kevin the Carrot, is the outside threat to the John Lewis crown in my humble opinion and it’s all down to long term commitment and being distinctive and subsequently fighting against being wallpaper. They’ve broken away from the formula I mentioned previously and have produced a character that will now feature every Christmas. We even saw that lovely festive image of mass brawls and chaos down their aisles over stuffed Kevin toys last week. It sets Aldi apart from the pack and means that as soon as you see Kevin on screen you know immediately who you’re watching. They were even brave enough to parody another member of Christmas ad royalty, Coca-Cola, a couple of weeks ago, with Kevin and his Christmas truck presumably waiting for Michael Caine to come up with a well-timed plan. It also helps demonstrate the point further when you consider that Coca-Cola, even with its vast budgets, re run the truck advert every year – why? Because there’s no reason to change it, its distinctive, you know its Coke and you come to expect it every Christmas.
As part of Christmas tradition for marketers, we also must endure and accept this is a time where everyone becomes an expert in advertising. From living rooms, coffee shops and pubs, your ear will be chewed off by various relatives and friends giving you their opinions on what ads rock their stockings this year and which ones the agency deserve being given a lump of coal. Some of us may perform eye rolls and give a slight chuckle when this happens, thinking “they don’t understand the proposition behind this” or “they don’t appreciate the craft or storytelling here”. However, this is totally why some of us miss the point – we should absolutely be listening before we disappear up our own chimneys. It’s the general public who we’re advertising to and if they are saying things like “I don’t know which one it is, but it’s got dad AND mom sleeping in the arm chair” or, “I don’t know where I’m going to put a piano”, then it needs to be listened to. By listening to some of the pub chat it may help jolt some of us out of trying to create the usual mushy wallpaper that may win some pats on the back at an awards do, and instead create stuff that helps make brands distinctive, famous and memorable at Christmas.
Being distinctive is something many of the big boys do consistently for a reason and becomes particularly important when you’re squinting at the TV after a day on Turkey and wine between naps. It’s the same reason why McDonalds always have those famous golden arches in their ads, who incidentally have rivalled Kevin on the best Christmas carrot 2018 award. Anyway, time for a mulled wine. It is 2pm on a Thursday after all.