• Harry Lang

“Ho, Ho, Woe” Here’s what you can expect to see with 2018's Christmas


Advertisers have spent the year frantically bleeding the tear ducts of reindeer to bring us a suitably schmaltzy smorgasbord of sycophantic cobblers.

Somewhere in the middle Atlantic Ocean there’s a strip of sand known as Pig Beach. This desolate, rocky shore is jagged and unwelcoming, thanks to a long-distant volcanic heritage, and if you try hard enough you can find it on the appropriately named ‘Inaccessible Island’, twenty eight miles from the slightly more placid island of Tristan da Cunha, itself over 1,500 miles from South Africa.

Inaccessible Island has witnessed only marginally less human DNA than Simon Cowell’s forehead. It’s so abjectly remote that its only claim to fame is as home to the ‘Inaccessible Rail’, the world's smallest flightless bird who, you’d assume, only stuck around because it was tragically unable to fly away.

If you’re not a people person, Pig Beach is your nirvana. However, at this time of year even the local penguin population is unnervingly aware that they’ll be hard pushed to avoid the plethora of turgid Christmas ads that everyone on the planet is traditionally subjected to.

No matter where you are, there is no escape from the advertiser’s season of goodwill.

In advance of this annual maelstrom of commercial saccharine, here’s what you can expect to hit the airwaves sometime after Bonfire night:-

Let’s begin with the fan’s favourite – the much loved retail establishment.

John Lewis (and their Partners, apparently) have owned the Christmas retail category over the past decade but everyone from Debenhams to ASOS have been buying in agencies, media and talent trying desperately to catch up and steal a little slice of the public’s hearts.

For all the joy the John Lewis Christmas campaigns have spread over the years (Buster, Monty, From me to you – they’ve excelled themselves, to be fair), commercially, they’re only just recovering from what can only be descried as the Marianas Trench of share price crashes, hitting a low of eighty pence on the 3rd of October.

That means they’re under the cosh, which puts a horrific amount of pressure on their incumbent agency, advertising’s Wunderkinds adam&eveDDB to deliver like Santa on crack.

But this should present no significant bother – this shit is totally formulaic. A&EDDB just need to inject a little extra Christmas sparkle to the formula to make it work and run it step by step:-

  • Animation? God yes – let’s not risk alienating anyone with real life here - and if kids love it, then so do parents, right? Best go with Aardman – it’s the only way to be sure

  • Hollywood director – preferably an Oscar winner. And/ or a woman. Tick a diversity box if you can.

  • Media spend – who do you want to reach? For this they have to heed the advice of Gary Oldman’s wonderful character Stansfield in Leon. “Bring me everyone”.

  • Fairy Dust – this is the extra hidden gem – the unquantifiable magic that makes a good Christmas ad great. Problem is, John Lewis have had such an extraordinary a run of success that their wonderful campaigns are now as anticipated as a Katie Price meltdown in The Sun. This year they’ll need to go big. And who better than princess of hearts Meghan Markell? If she’s not available then maybe an A.I. driven virtual reality version of Marilyn Monroe? Something – anything – is needed to fuel the zeitgeist.

  • Music – an all-time heart rending classic or an up and coming artist with a sob story and a moving melodic guitar tune? If in doubt, best to throw more money at the problem to guarantee success.

That means Elton. The Rocket Man.

Who they’ve already signed up, apparently.

For five million quid.

For a sodding TV ad.

How many Le Creuset pans is that?

Back to planet normal and we can be reassured by our supermarket chains and their Christmas ad offerings. You can set your watch by the executions the big Mults trundle out year after year:-

  • Tesco – Big name (British) talent, endearingly cack-handed male & controlling, bubbly and empowered female. Thin plot line featuring several key Christmas dinner staples. Amusing but inoffensive sign off somewhere around the till.

  • Sainsbury’s – They think they’re better than Tesco, and so do their customers so they’ll have higher production values, more middle class talent and a homely setting in which the message is more subtle – Christmas is about family, love and giving. Nice.

  • Waitrose – Posh and expensive – they know it, you know it. It’s the same stuffing as Aldi’s but it’s made with crumbed focaccia by an artisanal baker called Francoise and costs eleven quid. Deal with it.

  • ASDA – WHAT A HAPPY TIME! IT’S CHRISTMAS! ASDA staff, good pricing, no bullshit. I love ASDA. It knows it’s a shop selling well priced food that’s OK. That’s it. You know what you’re into here. If John Lewis tried this low production values/ focus on cost approach, the Royal Borough of Hammersmith & Chelsea would have an attack of the vapours. As it is, you expect a lot for a little, and you get exactly that.

  • Morrisons/ CO-OP – Like Sainsbury’s but with considerably less pricey talent. Kids will feature if for no other reason than they don’t have hard nosed agents and can pull a cracker on demand.

  • Lidl & Aldi – “Here’s a fucking turkey. And some spuds. It’s safe to eat and doesn’t taste like your sock draw. Have a turkey Christmas”. Job done.

Back in la-la land, the wonderful people at ‘Perfume Ads For Sale’ (@PerfumeAds on Twitter) really should be reaping it in as we approach the festive period. Fragrance manufacturers wrote the book decades ago when it comes to seasonal bullshit in advertising.

It seems they traditionally spend 1% of their budget on strategic insight, 4% on cocaine and the remaining twenty million split evenly between media, a trending Hollywood star and enough post production lens flare to make George Lucas nervous.

Perfume ads are astonishingly vapid at the best of times - but this year it’ll get undoubtedly worse - we can expect a healthy dose of crow-barred #MeToo/ Diversity references that seem oddly ill-fitting next to Natalie Portman’s soft focussed bottom.

But what do I know? They’re the pros when it comes to selling smells (sorry, ‘anticipatory essences’) to desperate, witless husbands like me.

Toys – Two and a half words – ‘Toys R Us’. Now, this paradise of kid’s nonsense has gone belly up, who’s going to educate us on what’s hot and what’s not in the child quietening world?

It’s Amazon, that’s who.

Those American retail bastards have got all of us by the short and curlys, haven’t they? Cheaper, easier, and with a bit of ethical self-brainwashing, they’re the geniuses who let us find, pay, wrap and deliver all our gifts with a minimal amount of fuss (although apparently with the maximum amount of rainforest destroying packaging, it seems).

Amazon will advertise everything this Christmas, including toys, and it’ll all be so fricking easy. My godchildren already have wish lists and my soon to arrive daughter has a nursery that may as well have an Amazon smiley logo decal stuck on the ceiling. It’s all shits & giggles until they own the world, then we’ll be made to pay.

Damn you and your easy, ruthless efficiency, Amazon. Damn you.

Charities – it must be bloody hard working at a charity. Flogging gadgets, clothes or food is easy by comparison. Christmas is inevitably a time in which charities need to collect the maximum amount in donations and yet not only is the media landscape hugely overcrowded with competitors but also the audience is brassic. Those iPhone X’s are over a grand and kids want a stocking, too.

But hold fire – these are the ones that matter, aren’t they? No matter what your role in this dizzying industry, you’re doing alright.

Others definitely aren’t. The Guardian published a handy list of the top 1,000 UK charities here so next time you’re about to splurge in response to an emotionally manipulative Christmas ad, why not pick one of the less trendy ones from the bottom of the list and give them some love? A donation or even volunteering a little of your time would be hugely impactful.

Save some of your professional, social and monetary equity for those who can’t buy an Alessi Stovetop Kettle with Melodic Whistle for one hundred and seventy two quid.

There are plenty of people out there who won’t even see the John Lewis ad selling it in the first place.

Harry Lang (@MrHarryLang) is the founder of Brand Architects, a brand and integrated marketing consultancy. You can contact him at Harry@BrandArchitects.info or via LinkedIn.

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