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Learning from the Christmas ads:  How to engage audiences

Sick of the Christmas ads yet? Even if you never want to watch another one again, they do offer some useful lessons in how to engage audiences. PR experts discuss gems of insight to be gained from 2019’s crop.

Top tips

Build a community
Great ads teach us the value of building a community says Emma Clayton, director at comms agency Grey Bear Consultancy: “So much emphasis is being put on Christmas adverts these days where all the top brands compete for the top slot accolade as advert of the year. People wait eagerly as the next John Lewis ad hits the screens, record companies clambering to provide the music that they believe will make the Christmas number one, and yet those that seek a sense of community are those that I believe have most to offer. Community building has become a key pillar for powerful brands, cultivating a deeper brand affinity, connection and loyalty. From the cute golden star in the 2018 Sainsbury’s advert to Paddington and the Visitor in 2017 – the powerful word of mouth extends brand advocacy as we all ask ‘Have you seen… ’?”

Give people a fuzzy feeling
John Lewis ads are perfect examples of ads that make people feel happy inside says Jessica Pardoe, PR executive at agency The Source PR: “I think Christmas ads are a golden opportunity for brands, they’re so highly anticipated and it really gives you a chance to capture emotions. The best types of averts are the ones that have that emotional element, that make you feel happy inside. John Lewis is probably the best example of a brand which has been able to perfect this. Not only are its ads widely spoken about every Christmastime, but it has also built a great brand for itself around Christmas, thanks to its seasonal ads. When you think of Christmas, you think of John Lewis. That’s no accident. I think the worst ads are the ones that are unimaginative, they’re easily forgotten about and without being harsh – a bit of a waste of money and effort!” 

Make ‘em laugh  
There is nothing wrong with a bit of fun says Ronke Lawal, founder of agency Ariatu Public Relations: “IKEA's vibrant advert which infused modern and on-the-pulse grime music into the commercial was a hit because it was fun, funny and in keeping with IKEA's style.”  

Be true to the brand
Lawal thinks Argos hit exactly the right note: “One of my favourite adverts of the year has to be from Argos, its running theme of nostalgia struck the right chord and it really emphasised the fact that it knows who it is – it is a trusted high-street brand and that catalogue has maintained its reputation and relationship with its customers for many years.”  

Underline the meaning of Christmas  
Laura Sutherland, chief of PR agency Aura, explains why you have to appreciate what this season means for people: “Christmas is a time for reflecting and appreciating. It’s a time when people come together to have fun and make memories.  

“For too long Christmas ads have been about big presents, and society has taken it to a whole new level of crazy with kids getting presents every day in December just for advent, never mind for the ‘big day’. But the best ads are the ones which drive home the message of thinking about a personal gift, no matter how much it costs, as it really is the thought that counts.  

“Indeed the same can be said of the friends and family members we invite to events – it’s about including people to show you care. Good Christmas ads underline the meaning of Christmas.”  

Tell a good story  
Rachel Evans, managing director, creative at research firm Kantar, says that although Excitable Edgar is voted the ‘most enjoyable’ ad, Aldi’s is more rounded [see panel below for results of Kantar’s Christmas ad research]:

“First, it engages consumers by telling an entertaining story that evokes high levels of emotion. Kantar research shows Christmas ads that use stories generate far more enjoyment and emotion than others, making people pay attention to them and creating lasting memories.

“However, to be effective the brand also needs to be at the centre of the campaign, otherwise people struggle to remember who it is about! The reappearance of much-loved Kevin the Carrot ensures that Aldi has a starring role.”

What NOT to do  

Don’t be lazy  
Ariatu’s Ronke Lawal says: “JD sports seemed lazy in its approach hiring popular influencers without really using them creatively, overall it was just okay, it was diverse although the obvious lack of dark skinned black women caused an online backlash due to who its core audience is.”  

Don’t try to be trendy  
Lawal commends John Lewis for sticking to what it knows best: “John Lewis and Waitrose was very much in keeping with their overall brand narrative, it was endearing, cute and charming and they didn't try too hard to be trendy in a way that would have possibly seemed inauthentic to their audience.”

Don’t try to please everyone  
Lawal explains: “Boots had a cute idea, but it felt forced, using terminology like ‘problematic’ albeit in a tongue-in-cheek way just didn't feel genuine, it was trying too hard to appeal to too many groups of people and it weakened the overall impact.”  

Don’t ignore the bigger picture
Asda is a perfect example of a brand putting its head in the sand says Lawal: “Asda's advert would have received a better response if it was not going through current pay disputes which is yet another reminder of the importance of overall reputation management and why handling a crisis is essential throughout the year not just for Christmas.”

Best ads this year  

Here are the winners of the Christmas ad wars according to Kantar’s annual Christmas TV ad research:

  • Aldi’s Amazing Christmas Show is the most powerful ad of Christmas 2019.
  • Excitable Edgar’ from John Lewis & Partners is the most enjoyable ad. 
  • The ad that generates most love for the brand behind it is Walkers’ Too Good To Share.
  • There is three-way tie between the ads that make us feel most emotional this year: Aldi, John Lewis & Partners and M&S’s Go Jumpers for Christmas.
  • The ad with the strongest branding this year is Tesco’s Delivering Christmas, Tesco is closely followed by M&S Food’s This is Not Just Food, Walkers’ ad, then Amazon’s ad.
  • Consumers find Ikea’s Silence the Critics most attention grabbing – with M&S’s Go Jumpers for Christmas a close second. 
  • M&S Food’s This is Not Just Food is the spot that most makes people most want to go out and buy. 

  Christmas ads are not just for Christmas. The tips they offer for entertaining audiences and encouraging them to love your brand are useful all year round.

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