With five weeks until Christmas, the lights are on, the fires are lit, and the major TV Ad campaigns have rolled in. John Lewis’ #montythepenguin gained over 4million views in 24hours; Sainsbury’s beautiful reconstruction of the 1914 Christmas Truce #Christmasisforsharing proved polemic. Enough has been written elsewhere on these blockbuster adverts, but where do they stand in relation to more mainstream Christmas marketing, and how can the festive commercial extravaganza relate to traditional Christmas values?
Examining a few more of the major adverts this year easily establishes a common theme. Boots shows us tired relatives waking up in the middle of night and travelling cross-country to celebrate Christmas with a night-shift working nurse, because she’s special; Coca Cola’s Father Christmas spreads goodwill using the tagline ‘give a little happiness’; Marks and Spencer features the fairies ‘Magic and Sparkle’ spreading Christmas joy; and Waitrose tells the story of a little girl making wonderful gingerbread with the help of a kind staff member.
All these adverts focus on the joy of giving. This not only plays into the so-called ‘spirit of Christmas’ but neatly targets the giver, i.e. the person spending money. By clouding the ultimate goal of consumerism with a warm fuzzy feeling, major brands persuade the public to part with their cash. All John Lewis need do is make us coo about love, giving, penguins, and the childish excitement of the festive season, with only a subtle reminder of their brand at the end.
The ‘Christmas is about giving’ rhetoric aligns more smoothly with the motive of festive charity fundraising campaigns, than commercial advertising. There are plenty of examples of these: ITV’s annual TextSanta, Crisis’ Christmas appeals, the RSPCA’s recent ‘Countdown to Cruelty’, as well as the vast variety of charity Christmas cards available. Ultimately these campaigns will never get the same attention as major broadcasting ads, and it is unsurprising that charities like the WWF make use of twitter trends like #montythepenguin in order to promote their own goals. Madeleine Sugden has tracked a variety of responses to the trending hashtag, including the Dogs Trust’s attempt to re-home dogs named Monty. Most recently Penguin Books has capitalised on #montythepenguin, releasing a light-hearted animated short suggesting that ‘real love’ means love of books.
For organisations that can’t compete with million-pound advert budgets, using pre-existing media presence is a good way to gain publicity, but there are other means of staying in the game. Well-designed Christmas mailers, with links to your website, in combination with 'limited time only' deals can be a good way to prompt the hesitant customer to make a purchase. Deft use of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can go a long way, and, if you have the budget, deploy a targeted Pay Per Click PPC campaign to optimise traffic to your website. Make sure that when customers visit your site it is as easy to navigate as possible. Be clear about when the last day for guaranteed deliveries is, and if you are offering free P&P say so loud and clear. Christmas can also be a good moment to build on customer relations – from sending round Christmas cards and corporate gifts, to hosting lavish Christmas parties.
Nonetheless, don’t go overboard. Customers will be bombarded by Christmas marketing for the next month and the chances are they’ll get narked.
It is crucial to exercise caution when launching any Christmas advertising campaign. While it is tempting to jump on the largest commercial event of the year, there’s no point creating a campaign if it’s not right for your business, or enacting a last-minute badly thought out plan simply for the sake of it.
Our top tip, therefore, is to retain integrity, and not to lose sight of Christmas as a time for sharing and giving. By all means align your corporate aims with heart-warming tales of gingerbread baking; by all means utilise major twitter trends; by all means send round Christmas cards of your staff in Santa hats, but make sure you do it with taste. Floppy Christmas performance may be unfortunate, but try not to lose your customer support base in a fit of festive desperation.