Much to the annoyance of friends and family, I’m a Grinch. Most of Christmas simply doesn’t do it for me. Buying and receiving unwanted presents, having to listen to Christmas songs on rotation months in advance, tacky decorations and a packed diary of must-attend-although-I’d-rather-not events all leave me cold.


And yet, beneath this furry green exterior, there is a part of me that pines after some bits of Christmas. I love a few days off at the same time as people I care about. The cold and short days make sense of a glass of something warming, a fire and good company. The odd, genuinely thoughtful gift that catches me askance. Even, now I stop to think about it, a simply decorated tree and the smell of the outside, in.


If this is how one (exceedingly grumpy) person feels about the holiday, their specific list of likes and dislikes, we can imagine how hard it is for a brand to get it right with their Christmas advertising. We are, apparently, endlessly hungry for Christmas content at this time of the year, and brands who wish to capitalise on this have to balance the huge costs of producing cinema quality ads against short and long term returns.


Brands, the sort of ones who are able to afford the campaigns, have two options: to appeal very directly to a narrow audience, to their specific needs, or go broader and deliver increased brand awareness. The former is able to tailor specific messages and is more associated with short-term goals. Iceland, for instance, don’t want or need to appeal to everyone. In focusing on reaching the full potential of a specific audience, they can concentrate on particular traits (cost in this case) above all else.



Coca-Cola meanwhile have long co-opted Christmas (to the irritation of some) as a facet of their brand appeal. Their approach is not specific, because it is intended to reach all of us as part of an ongoing brand awareness campaign. As seen in their classic 1996 Christmas ad.



More recently, John Lewis ads are famous for their non-specifics. Man on the Moon? Penguin? Trampolining animals? There are very few product specific cues in their ads – because their aim is less direct but much more ambitious: aiming to sell the brand and not the products. Their return could be measured in overall brand awareness in the months leading up to Christmas and beyond, not how many trampolines they shift in 2016. It is indicative of long-term goals and a confident brand.


Whether an organisation is trying to increase footfall to maximise Christmas potential, or increase overall brand awareness via the good feelings most of us have over the period, there is an understandable urgency about Christmas advertising (imagine the reaction if John Lewis didn’t release an ad in 2017). Christmas ads are for all of us, even those whose favourite Christmas ads are the bad ones that are unintentionally hilarious (Coca-Cola here, proving past success is no measure of future work), because through increased media consumption and an almost unavoidable need to spend money, we are all a captive audience/potential consumer at this time of the year, whether we like it or not.
Bah humbug.


(PS I’ll cheer up after my first mince pie).


By Oliver Brown