Xmas ads 2021: All product and not enough purpose steals the emotion of Christmas

Kurt Stuhllemmer
John Lewis xmas 2021

Retailers are in full sales mode this year. The Christmas displays are in stores in full, sparkling glory and many of the big retailers and brands have launched their advertising earlier than ever. Ultimately all advertising aims to sell, eventually, but it knows that other parts in the panto are important too and works hard to appeal to our emotions and making a human connection.

Locked down creatives must have followed an old advertising checklist on how to make a Christmas ad:

  1. Take an old story and re-hash it
  2. NEVER use the original song – always do a cover
  3. Whack as much product into it as you can
  4. Don’t forget to include the cute old person
  5. If you want to tell a story quickly, don’t… drag it out for as long as you can. Hell 3 mins is fine.
  6. Add in the obligatory pet
  7. Represent everyone, ideally all together in the same scene

Sadly, consumers aren’t in the mood for a blatant sell and many want to avoid excess. Almost 1 in 5 consumers (18%) told us they would be actively shifting away from excess and spending less. They want to avoid expensive gift buying, seeing it as unnecessary, overindulgent and going against their desire to live more sustainably.

The younger generation in particular are shifting to experiences and everyone is valuing time spent with friends and family after a long year of repeated lockdowns. M&S will probably run out of stock on Percy products, while Boots is particularly tone deaf with its materialistic #Bagsof joy ad.

John Lewis Partnership seems to have stolen its Christmas from Viacom (ET ad last year). Obviously very high production values from this retail giant that has traditionally led the Christmas parade, but will fall on the sword of the benchmark they set themselves in earlier years.

Although featuring its range of sporting goods, Sports Direct ad ‘go all out’ is fun and upbeat. Full of celebrities, it has touched on a nice insight that although we are all glued to technology, sport brings us together and outside more. It will connect well.

House of Fraser’s ad also nods to the being together theme but lacks any decent branding.

Esty has taken a step in the right direction, tapping into the race and other societal challenges head on which is nicely done, though very American and perhaps a bit utopian and therefore lacking credibility. I’m not sure how many sales clerks could walk their customers shopping home. Nonetheless it’s a heart-warming message that does tap into the mood of the moment where other retailers have failed.

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