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Battle of the Christmas Ads 2018: Who wins this Yuletide?

Scrooges beware: it is a truth universally acknowledged that once the sun has set on Halloween, Christmas season instantly begins.

It’s our favourite time of year at Raw London, when we all pile on to critique Adland’s offerings — and this year’s batch has provided plenty of fodder for debate. Unruly’s data-driven analysis of Christmas ads since 2015 found a clear trend toward evoking happiness and warmth, followed by inspiration and nostalgia; and while many of the big players stuck to this tried and true formula in 2018, there were plenty of surprises in the mix as well.

Risks can bring big rewards

Argos were one of the first out the gate, with a tale of naughty elves that failed to surprise or excite. Asda went big budget, low risk with a classic bonanza on ice. Aldi brought back Kevin the Carrot for the third year running, and hey – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it! In one of our team’s picks for worst Christmas ad, M&S dialled up the schmaltz with ‘candid’ clips of customers rambling on about their favourite products.

Other brands ventured down more humorous routes, with mixed results. Poundland made their naughty elves do X-rated things, which proved divisive but memorable. Currys PC World leaned in to nostalgia, reimagining a Dickensian cityscape filled with drones and Alexas. And the ever-inventive KFC surprised us anew with a short, clever showdown between a chicken and a turkey.

The year of ‘corporate caring’

Iceland’s decision to buy and repurpose Greenpeace’s lovely Rangtan animation as their Christmas ad has proven to be a masterful PR move. The spot was deemed too political for broadcasting by Clearcast – the body responsible for clearing ads on behalf of the UK’s major broadcasters – resulting in a flurry of debate and think pieces online, and plenty of positive buzz for Iceland’s commitment to phase out palm oil from all their own-brand products by the end of 2018.

While nothing about the ad is overtly Christmas-themed, it taps into the ‘do-good’ sentiment that resonates well with audiences during this season. In a similar vein, Co-op drummed up positive PR in early November by announcing that they were donating £19m to good causes in their network – money they partly recouped by delaying their Christmas TV ad campaign until 1 December. Thanks to this and other moves by several brands, The Conversation has already dubbed 2018 the “year of ‘corporate caring.’”

The elephant in the room

We would be remiss not to mention the elephant in the room, every ad person’s nightmare: the unfortunate fate of Sainsbury’s ‘The Big Night’. What could have been a sweet, stand-alone tribute to the school Nativity play ended up looking like a budget knock-off of the blockbuster (and in all fairness, brilliant) John Lewis & Partners rebrand ad that launched just two months ago.

Campaign invited ad execs to (hilariously) imagine the disbelief and palaver that ensued when the first ad dropped:

Client and agency sit in the playback area sipping flat whites and browsing through their phones when they spot a John Lewis ad that just dropped out of the blue. Is it Christmas already? They all huddle around a phone to watch. As the first few seconds go by, their collective jaws drop. It’s a school play extravaganza. The exact same script that they are shooting. Even the endline and strategy are similar. Panic quickly spreads through the set. Surely they can’t carry on making an ad that’s the exact replica of another big brand’s ad?

Perhaps a small consolation is that the Sainsbury’s version has thrice the number of views on Youtube – although their decision to disable comments on the video speaks volumes.

One beast remains

As seasoned cynics, we were determined to resist its big-budget charms, but in the end, it won us over. Following up a lukewarm 2017 offering, John Lewis came back swinging this year with #EltonJohnLewis, a beautifully-shot journey through the ages with one of pop music’s greatest icons. They got the real Elton John. And real recordings of Your Song. As much as we hate to admit it, it’s an impressive feat: John Lewis are still winning Christmas.

 

Author: Fiona Koch, Account Planner / Director at Raw London. Follow Fiona on Twitter @fijinsky 

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