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Expert Comment: 'Tis the season...for the Christmas ad

shopping bags 150x150 Thursday 5 November 2015

Dr Clay Gransden, Post Doctoral Teaching Fellow in Marketing, discusses what we can expect from retailers this Christmas, and how their advertising and marketing approach reflects their retail ambitions.

As Christmas is fast approaching, it is that time of year when the big supermarkets vie for our wallets with their advertising offerings, with an estimated £9.3 billion pounds up for grabs. One of the big winners last year was John Lewis,  that in recent times has become ‘the one to watch’. The big question is whether or not there is a formula to creating a successful Christmas advert. If you were to look over the last couple of year’s offerings there seem to be some interesting patterns.

In recent years there has also been a noticeable shift towards a focus on gift giving, the John Lewis Bear and the Hare advert from 2013 being a good example. No longer focusing on specific products, the spotlight is now also on the experience, for instance in ALDI and ASDA’s new adverts there is little shown of their product range or promotional offers this year. Instead, the focus is on how they can facilitate your ‘perfect’ Christmas and the emotions that go with that perfection. Using emotional engagement has links to loyalty and also creates positive word of mouth marketing.  Using emotions is a very good tactic as we often feel before we think and persuasion is emotional in nature.

Most of the brands are also trying to use social media to help spread their message and as a result many consumers now view Christmas adverts on their mobile device, online or on social media platforms rather than directly on the TV. A mixture of hashtags and Shazam are being used to try to create more interactions with the brands. We are currently in the ‘horizontal revolution’ where information is shared across people rather than top-down from brands to consumers. Brands try to use this fact to their advantage as there is often more credibility when something is recommended by a family member, friend or peer.

Music has increasingly become an integral part of the brand message delivery, with brands utilising emotive songs to engage us and make us feel ‘Christmassy’. The music soundtrack tends to be an old song sung by a contemporary artist, perhaps to appease both the adults who are buying the products as well as engaging the younger generation. The songs used in these adverts often hit the charts and gain air time which reinforces the brand message to the listener when heard again on the radio or if downloaded.  The current collection of adverts so far also reinforce some of the other unwritten rules about Christmas adverts: everyone is happy; there are lashings of snow; the obligatory sprout; flashing lights; no fake trees and nobody celebrates alone. Sadly this is not reflective of the real world.

John Lewis and Sainsburys last year also managed to capitalise on their adverts by selling Monty the Penguin branded products and chocolate bars respectively, which were the focus of the adverts. This was done in an attempt to create tangible evidence of the feelings that were invoked. Perhaps these products increased store visits resulting in a positive impact on sales and market share. Interestingly Monty the Penguin sold out very swiftly and some of the larger penguin toys priced at £95 could be found on eBay for nearly £500.

As a Marketer it is interesting to pull apart the psychology and the methods incorporated. Equally it is important to take a stance from a consumer’s perspective. If there is a formula for such a Christmas TV advert it raises the question are we that easy to manipulate? If so, do brands just create a formula with a mix of emotional engagement and some rousing music by a contemporary artist? The more active pessimists among us may think so, some of you may disregard all of the above as an ‘over analysis’ and others of you simply might not care. 

This year’s John Lewis advert will be released on Friday 6th November and I am confident that we will see something similar to previous years, an advert which emotionally engages the public using a powerful soundtrack and capitalises on our emotive connection to the festive period and our desire to create the ‘perfect Christmas’.

 Liverpool Hope Business School

Marketing at Liverpool Hope University



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