Black Friday. White Christmas.
22 December 2014 Jim Harrison,
Over the years the way we shop in the UK has been strongly influenced by the US. And in the run up to Christmas 2014 the influence from across the pond shows no sign of diminishing. Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Small Business Saturday are all American imports designed to encourage us to spend more and spend sooner. But, the “American Way” is not always the right way if the dark scenes which filled our news media on Black Friday were anything to go by. The spirit of Christmas seemed a long way off as people fought with each other for discounted TV’s.
Thankfully the traditional values of Christmas are more evident in the advertising efforts of Britain’s retail brands which will be seen on those televisions. In recent years, when the jingle bell sounds the heavyweight bout has been between retail giants, John Lewis Partnership and Marks and Spencer. Supported by multi million pound budgets there is a lot riding on the performance of these campaigns.
I am not convinced that the M&S offering will succeed in creating the boost in clothing sales that they need. I think the ad is unexciting but one thing it does do, is continue to support their consistent Christmas brand – Magic and Sparkle – and that is quite clever. However for me John Lewis is once again the clear winner. Some might argue that the John Lewis approach is now quite familiar - great animation, atmospheric soundtrack and double dollops Christmas spirit. But if it is formulaic, it’s surely a winning formula and this year they have the added ingredients of Monty and Mabel, the unbelievably realistic computer generated penguin stars of the ad.
In the spirit of giving John Lewis has teamed up with the World Wildlife Foundation and profits from the CD sales of John Lewis's Christmas advert single Real Love by Tom Odell will go to WWF's Adopt a Penguin Programme.
Possibly the most talked about ad of 2014 also has the spirit of giving and at its heart and contains a strong charity link. Sainsbury’s Christmas blockbuster – “Christmas is for Sharing” tells the story of the Christmas Truce and the football match between British and German soldiers in No Man’s Land during the Great War. Creatively, the ad is a masterpiece, with the production values of a Hollywood movie. But the ad has attracted controversy. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has received hundreds of complaints, focused on the appropriateness of making commercial gain from the misery of war. Many felt that the ad was distasteful, but the ASA eventually decided that the ad broke no rules.
I understand people’s concerns but the fact that the campaign is generating much needed income for the Royal British Legion strongly vindicates Sainsbury’s approach. The bar of chocolate, given by the British Tommy to his German counterpart, which is the centre of the ad’s narrative is on sale in Sainsbury’s and all profits go to the Royal British Legion. The bars of chocolate are proving very popular, selling at a rate of 5000 an hour. What’s more the relationship with the Royal British Legion is not a recent piece of opportunism on the part of Sainsbury’s – it stretches back 20 years. And if, in the run up to Christmas, the ad creates awareness of WW1 amongst our young people and stimulates cross-generational discussions within families, that has to be a good thing.
But no matter how sugar coated and gentle the message, the primary purpose of all of the Christmas ads is to boost sales in this crucial trading period. Early indications of the success of each campaign can be found in their ability to influence and shape social media chatter. This year the Sainsbury’s campaign seems to be topping the viral charts. According to recent data it received 24,401 mentions, its promotional hashtags were used over 8000 times, and it reached 83.7 million people. Only the John Lewis ad came close to this level of impact with over 14,000 mentions reaching 47.4 million people. This despite the campaign being launched in an ad break on Gogglebox, a programme that stimulates strong social media engagement. All of the other big name brand campaigns -Tesco, Debenhams, Morrison’s trailed a very long way behind.
Industry wags might say the “gift” in the Sainsbury ad is a metaphor for traditional British supermarkets handing over market share to the low cost invaders from Germany , namely Aldi and Lidl. In 2014 they have continued to gain ground and the Lidl Christmas campaign in particular feels fresh and is clearly designed to shift share from more “mainstream” supermarkets.
But for Christmas 2014 there is another German influence on our high streets. In December I have spent some time in Birmingham and Belfast but it felt more like being in Berlin. The German Christmas market seems to have taken over our city centres. No longer do you need to hop on Easyjet or Ryanair to experience “authentic” Bratwurst. If nothing else it shows how different the world is in Christmas 2014 compared to Christmas 1914.
Header image courtesy of Flickr user 'jamielondonboy'