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24 November 2023

Are Christmas Ads Still an Effective Marketing Strategy?

It's that time of year; Christmas ad season is upon us! But, if you're a business, are they still worth doing? Are Christmas ads still an effective marketing strategy? Let's take a ride on Santa's sleigh and see if they are.
Are Christmas Ads Still an Effective Marketing Strategy?

The holiday season has long been synonymous with heart-warming gatherings, festive decorations, and, of course, the annual flood of Christmas ads.

In recent years, the advertising landscape has witnessed a surge in high budget, emotionally charged campaigns (we’re looking at you John Lewis) vying for consumer attention and loyalty. As we approach the end of 2023, it's only natural to ask the question “Do Christmas Ads Still Work?”

Do these carefully crafted pieces of media still resonate with consumers, or has the magic worn off?


The Evolution of Christmas Advertising

Over the past decade, Christmas ads have become a cultural phenomenon, with major brands investing substantial resources to create memorable campaigns.

Arguably the most famous example of a brand doing this is John Lewis, who’s Christmas ads have become a genuine household name, with each year bringing a new heart-warming story to everyone’s screens.

The ads have become such a staple of the brand, that people eagerly await the adverts release and then spend the next few hours of their life discussing and dissecting it.

It’s a bit weird and over the top in my opinion, but it perfectly encapsulates how effective good marketing really is.


The Foolproof Formula

So, the "Christmas ad formula" – a combination of animated animals, celebrity partnerships, and sentimental narratives set to classic songs. It’s the perfect recipe.

According to Kantar, Christmas ads should:

·       Tell a compelling narrative where the brand plays a central role.

·       Elicit an emotional response, but not too be sad or serious.

·       Deliver a memorable Christmas experience that captivates and engages the audience.

This formula has been a staple of Christmas ads for years now, but has this formulaic approach become a victim of its own success? Are consumers growing weary of the familiar tropes, craving something fresh and unexpected?

So far this year, we’ve had:

·       Aldi’s 'Kevin and the Christmas factory’

·       Asda’s collaboration with Michael Bublé

·       Coke’s 2023 Santa

·       M&S’s 'I won’t do that' Meatloaf inspired advert

·       Morrisons's singing oven glove

·       John Lewis’ – Snapper: The Perfect Tree

·       Capital One’s Christmas 2023 Ad ft. John Travolta

·       TK Maxx – Festive Farm

·       Tesco’s ‘How Bizarre’ advert

·       And many, many more…


The Case for Christmas Ads

Proponents argue that Christmas ads continue to be a vital part of the marketing calendar.

Data from the Advertising Association and Warc indicates that advertisers are anticipated to allocate a record-breaking £9.5 billion for the upcoming Christmas season. This reflects a 4.8% rise from the previous year, and clearly shows that businesses still believe in their power.

Industry experts also emphasise that these ads spark conversations, cut through the advertising noise, and play a crucial role in maintaining brand health and perception.

Research also indicates that for every £1 invested in advertising, yields a substantial £6 return to the UK economy. The financial benefits, however, are not the sole reward; the achievement of brand awareness through a well-executed Christmas campaign is equally significant.

A prime example is John Lewis's 2016 commercial, featuring the lovable 'Buster the Boxer' who jumped on a trampoline.

This ad swiftly became a social media sensation, amassing over 30,000 mentions on Twitter within two hours of its launch and securing its position as the most-shared ad of 2016.

Despite the £7 million production cost, the uplifting advertisement played a pivotal role in propelling John Lewis ahead of the market during the festive season.

The department store witnessed a notable 2.7% growth in like-for-like sales in the six weeks leading up to December 31.

Notably, John Lewis estimates that its sales have soared by over 35% since 2012, attributed to the consistent success of its Christmas advertising endeavours.

In essence, advertising typically revolves around two fundamental and interrelated goals:

·       The establishment of long-term brand identity

·       The generation of immediate sales

When it comes to Christmas ads, it's crucial to consider their impact on brand visibility and recall, depending on your preferred KPI’s.

The bottom line is not just about leaving a lasting impression, but also translating that into results, which a lot of brands have seen as result of creating Christmas ads.

The Sceptic’s View

The effectiveness of Christmas ads is a topic that invites scepticism, particularly when considering how someone might defines and measure success. Several reasons contribute to this scepticism.

They’re Expensive

Firstly, the substantial expense associated with Christmas ads raises concerns about the return on investment. Festive campaigns, often costing millions, allocate a significant portion of their budget to securing advertising space, as reported by the BBC.

Critics, including figures like Lord Sugar, have said that these high-budget Christmas ads are a “waste of money that would have no impact on sales".

Bah Humbug to you too, Alan.


Difficult to Analyse

Evaluating and attributing Christmas ads to sales poses a considerable challenge.

Retail Gazette notes that these ads serve the dual purpose of driving both short-term sales and long-term brand building, however, as competition intensifies during the festive season, isolating the specific impact of Christmas ads from other factors such as price, product quality, service, and word-of-mouth becomes increasingly difficult, leading to confusion within the business.



Lastly, the risk of diminishing returns and consumer fatigue looms over Christmas ads. Embryo points out that expectations have soared in recent years, setting a higher bar for creativity and innovation.

As a result of this, consumers may grow weary or annoyed with formulaic and predictable Christmas ads, potentially leading them to disengage or actively skip the ads altogether.

The Societal Lens

Beyond the realm of marketing metrics, there’s a broader societal reflection.

In a world marked by economic and political unrest, rising loneliness, and escalating costs of living, the question arises: does the overwhelming investment in commercialism during the holiday season genuinely contribute to a sense of well-being?

Are these ‘feel-good’ ads fostering a renewed festive spirit, or are they perceived as mere manifestations of consumerism during challenging times?

Whether you’re deciding to heat or eat this Winter, you can be rest assured that there will be a singing reindeer on your TV screen.


So, They’re Worth it?

At this moment in time, yes they are.

Brands, both big and small, will continue to invest heavily in creating Christmas ads to put you and your loved ones in the holiday spirit, because they work. We're all suckers for a caterpillar wearing a Christmas hat, aren't we? (I'm not, but don't let me ruin your fun).

However, if you do plan on making a Christmas advert, make it good, otherwise it'll be a waste of time and money.

Merry Christmas!

24 November 2023
Harry Martin
01392 667766
Optix Solutions
1st Floor, Alphin Brook House,
Alphin Brook Road,
Exeter EX2 8RG


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