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Christmas Ad Trends: Taking It Beyond The TV

Christmas TV adverts hold a special place in people’s hearts, with some of the most memorable ads of all time striking such a powerful emotional connection with consumers that they stand the test of time for years to come. Take Coca-Cola’s 1995 ‘Holidays are Coming’ ad, which is still loved to this day 20 years later. The iconic Coca-Cola Christmas truck has become such a recognisable figure, it wouldn’t quite be Christmas without it.

Over the years however, the trend of Christmas advertising has evolved from much more than just a 30 second spot, to an interactive story, striking an emotional bond with viewers both online and offline. The UK Battle for the best Christmas ads has become as much a part of Christmas as Santa and gifts, but winning the Christmas advertising battle is not just about a great TV ad anymore. Every year, retailers generate more and more buzz online via their Christmas campaigns. Online activities have a great influence on people’s shopping habits, so an integrated digital campaign that connects the on and offline arena, using interconnected sources beyond the TV, is essential.

Take Burberry, for example, who this year invited visitors to its store to be featured on its Billy Elliot-inspired Christmas ad. Through Google’s real-time stitching technology, which enables users to play a role in the brand’s Christmas ad campaign, visitors can ‘insert’ themselves into the video at ‘The Burberry Booth’ inside the store. The footage is then spliced into a 15-second edit of the ad, which is emailed to customers who are encouraged to watch and share their video on YouTube. Burberry’s campaign goes beyond traditional advertising on TV; it uses intelligent technology, the power of social media, and encourages people to be part of the brand’s Christmas story, taking advantage of instant community building and creating a thoughtful emotional bond.

Other brands like John Lewis, Sainsbury’s, and M&S join Burberry’s Christmas approach, going beyond a single 30 second ad on TV. Instead these major brands are standing out with short, punchy and emotionally engaging content that is evenly spread through digital channels and easily accessible to the modern mobile consumer. Let’s take a look at some of the most successful Christmas campaigns over the last couple of years:

John Lewis: Monty the Penguin 2014

Last year, John Lewis spent £7m on this campaign, telling the story of a little boy who gives his toy penguin Monty a furry female friend for Christmas. John Lewis’ ad reached 4.6m YouTube views before airing on TV, as well as #montythepenguin being used 146,674 times within the first three days of release, highlighting how impactful social media and online interactions are for a successful Christmas ad. The ad followed on from the success of John Lewis’ equally interactive 2013 campaign ‘The Bear and the Hare’. These campaigns emphasise the importance of advertising that is coupled with uniquely optimised activities on various distribution channels to capture consumer attention in a moment.

John Lewis used cutting edge technology to bring the campaign to life across 42 stores nationwide with Monty’s Den; an in-store experience using innovative technology to tell the stories of the characters from the ad – Sam, Monty and Mabel. The retailer created an Antarctic themed environment featuring new technology and educational content, including Monty’s Goggles. Created through Google Cardboard, the goggles provided a 360-degree virtual environment showcasing Monty and Sam’s world that children could step into and interact with. To date, this John Lewis advert has over 25 million views on YouTube. Facebook contributed 35.7% of the views during the first 4 days of the campaign, while 1.4% of the views were via Twitter.

The success of the campaign is highly linked with the extension of the story into digital. The star of the ad, Monty, had his own Twitter feed, with over 28,000 followers. The content on Twitter was written with a humorous tone, encouraging followers of all ages to get involved. Monty even had his own dating profile! There were behind the scenes videos and a wealth of parodies on YouTube which took on a life of their own. People were encouraged to download the soundtrack on their Facebook page as well as share their Monty ‘selfies’.

Offline, people could explore Monty’s Winter Garden in London and be involved in a more philanthropic way by adopting a penguin or improving children’s storytelling skills. John Lewis perfectly captured and expanded upon the ‘Monty’ story without a strong sales feel to it.

John Lewis: Man On The Moon 2015

This year, John Lewis has partnered with Age UK, to increase awareness about isolation amongst the elderly, as well as raise money to help support the charity. Currently this John Lewis TV ad has almost 20 million YouTube views.

While the telescope that Lily uses is available to buy in stores, John Lewis seems to have shied away from a big product push despite the analysts’ estimates that sales of the stuffed Monty the Penguin earned £18 million in revenue over the course of that campaign. It’s worth mentioning that Aldi released a parody of this Man on The Moon ad. The cheeky rip-off sees an old man compare the prices of telescopes on the moon, followed by the tagline ‘Aldi prices are anything but astronomical.’

This year, John Lewis is selling merchandise associated with the campaign, including glow in the dark pyjamas, and posters that can be used to unlock parts of the Man On The Moon app, available on the iPad. Moon pop-ups are planned for 11 John Lewis stores, where shoppers can get their photo taken and learn about the moon.

Sainsbury’s: Mog’s Christmas Calamity 2015

In a similar vein to John Lewis, Sainsbury’s Christmas campaign also helps raise awareness of a good cause. The supermarket giant has not only partnered with charity Save the Children, but also revived a much loved classic children’s book character: Mog the forgetful cat.

The humorous ad sees Mog wreaking havoc in the kitchen and setting fire to the Christmas tree on Christmas eve. She accidentally dials the fire brigade while walking over the telephone and ends up saving the day, with a lovely happy ending. The extended storybook-like advert is over three minutes long, sparking an immediate connection between Mog and the viewers, prompting them to want to bond further with this adorable character.

Sainsbury’s will be selling the book in stores for £3 and a Mog soft toy for £10, with all profits going to Save the Children’s work to improve child literacy in the UK.

The advert has been hailed as the most loved Christmas ad of 2015, according to a Survey by Opinium Research, which just goes to show the power of engaging storytelling.

M&S: Random acts of kindness 2014

Marks & Spencer’s 2014 Christmas TV ad featured fairies, Magic and Sparkle, granting wishes and bringing joy to families over Christmas.

M&S filtered the campaign through to social, with a dedicated Twitter account run by the fairies, listening to followers to find those in need of help to grant those Christmas wishes. The Twitter account reached 28,000 followers within the first few days of the campaign. M&S’s increased use of social media echoes John Lewis and other brands who have encouraged an element of interaction via Twitter and Facebook in their Christmas campaigns.

Marks & Spencer devoted a quarter of its festive budget to digital, splitting its Christmas TV ads into shorter clips for mobile consumption. The concept of ‘moments’ is increasingly common in mobile marketing, focusing on the idea that consumers are constantly scrolling through their social feeds. This gives marketers an opportunity to capture their attention, resulting in shorter, highly focused creative advertising.

M&S generated chatter on social media before the campaign launched on TV with small unbranded events such as creating real snow outside a primary school in Cornwall, giving gifts to night shift workers, and creating fairies made of lights above Newcastle’s Tyne Bridge. These activities were more tied with the concept of random act of kindness and granting wishes rather than the brand itself.

Most importantly, this year M&S has moved away from one long TV Christmas ad and released two spots that build on its existing “the art of…” and “adventures in…” formats.

The retailer gave a chance to view the campaign to its two million members of its loyalty programme first rather than premiering it on TV. M&S’ executive Director of Marketing and International, Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, described the two ads as “box sets” rather than feature films of years past.
The two ads were broadcast in full at key times on TV and on digital channels. M&S also added shorter, 20-second and 30-second versions to appeal to consumers with shorter attention spans.

Boots: Sharing the love 2014 campaign

Last year Boots’ TV Christmas ad specifically targeted the female audience. Using the tagline ‘because she’s so special’, the campaign focused on the story of a girl returning home for Christmas from her gap year to surprise her hard working mum.

Boots also connected the TV ad with activity on social media by inviting the nation to celebrate the special people in their lives with the launch of #specialbecause campaign, to inspire customers not to just give gifts at Christmas, but to share how much they value the people in their lives.


Over the last few years, we have seen brands taking innovative approaches to Christmas ads and transforming TV advertising trends, blending the online with the offline. Large retailers like Sainsbury’s, John Lewis and M&S have shown the potential of connecting offline and online Christmas activities through outstanding and engaging content beyond the traditional Christmas TV ads. The Christmas period is essential for many retailers and it’s extremely essential that any future campaigns are evenly spread through online channels capturing followers all the way.

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