Charlie Wilson: What Do Christmas Ads Mean?
OgilvyOne EMEA's CCO reminds us that Christmas is a time for giving and says brands should set an example.
We all spend too much at Christmas, don’t we? And no one as much so as the retailers, hoping to outshine each other with their festive feature films to lure us into their glittering grottos. The Christmas ad break has become Britain’s Super Bowl.
Ever since John Lewis’ seminal ad, The Long Wait, with the little boy counting down the days to Christmas, it’s become the biggest marketing event of the year. We look forward to it, we talk about it and, oh look, we write about it too.
In an age where we have access to a million different experiences every minute of the day, we crave that ‘collective experience’. That one thing we can all talk about together. Just like Adele and The X-Factor, the John Lewis Christmas ad transcends genders and generations to elicit opinions from everyone. And we love it. When there are a million places to go, it brings us all together. We’re social beings, after all.
So what of John Lewis’ latest extravaganza? Is it a cracker? Or is it a turkey? These guys have raised the bar so high that it’s almost impossible to outdo themselves. Man On The Moon is a great piece of filmmaking, crafted to perfection.
As always, the plot is all about giving rather than receiving, but that’s where the altruism ends. Merchandising has become its way of recouping some of the company's vast spend. A Man On The Moon mug, glow in the dark pyjamas, wrapping paper or activity pack anyone?
The tie up with Age UK adds an extra dimension to the plucking of the heartstrings, but where the 2011 film was beautifully poignant, this year’s effort just makes me sad.
If the competition is to see who can out-emote who, then Edeka, a German supermarket wins hands down with Heimkommen. An ad that showed an elderly man fake his own death to get his family to come home for the festive season has overtaken John Lewis as the the most shared Christmas ad of 2015.
Here to cheer us up, the Sainsbury’s Christmas campaign uses Judith Kerr’s ‘Mog’ in Mog’s Calamity Christmas; an eminently watchable, Paddington-inspired family film. It certainly stands up to repeat viewing more than the others, which is an important factor considering Christmas starts before your creatively carved pumpkin has had time to age.
One of my favourites has to be Mulberry, which has created its own spin on the nativity scene, with a handbag playing the part of Jesus in Miracle of Mulberry. It’s simply shot, beautifully cast and the performances are spot on. It’s not quite the spectacle of the previous two, but as a script, I wish I had written it. So, yes, it’s a thing of wonder. Quite stupendous. But, guys, it’s just a Christmas ad…
Despite the millions of pounds and thousands of hours spent on these films, a recent survey showed that only 30 per cent of the UK thinks that brands actually matter. So are these ads really working?
Although we all enjoy talking about them, we obviously don’t think they are important. So how can we make brands matter? Maybe what’s missing from the entire feast of films is a brand that truly gives.
The beautifully crafted script from Mulberry, the multi-million pound epic from John Lewis and the warm and family friendly Sainsbury’s ad are all fabulous. But to me they are all just very expensive wrapping paper, with no present inside.
How about these brands actually do something for people at Christmas? Give something rather than just talking about giving. Now that would be emotive. And noble. And, who knows, may even get talked about even more.
Just a thought. But then again, it’s the thought that counts. Isn’t it?