Keeping the Focus Human – Morrisons and McDonald’s

Christmas in Britain is a time for giving, and for partying, and family, and who knows – you might even fit a bit of religion in there too. But as far as Britain’s supermarkets are concerned, it’s above all a time for eating.

Festive feasts have always figured in Christmas advertising, of course. But with Christmas ads getting more media spotlight than ever, and with pressure to compete with the “big guns” like John Lewis and M&S, supermarkets and restaurants face a new dilemma. How do you showcase your festive food and also make your advertising emotional?

The fact is, there’s only so much you can do with straightforward food advertising. Aesthetic pleasure can be a big driver of happiness, so lovingly basted turkeys and juicy puds have a part to play in driving emotion at Christmas, but in our experience there’s usually a ceiling food ads hit. To get within reach of 4- or 5-Stars, you have to go a little further, injecting comedy, sentiment or drama into the ad.

According to our insights from our market research platform, this year’s UK Christmas ads have some great examples of brands doing just that. In particular, Morrisons and McDonald’s produced ads that make a point about the brand’s product range while keeping the focus very human.

McDonalds’ “Reindeer Ready” ad showcases a surprising part of the fast food chain’s menu – its bags of carrot sticks. Despite selling the vegetable snacks for decades, they’ve rarely been the focus of its marketing. But this bold choice pays off, with a strong 3-Star ad for McDonalds about a girl clutching her carrot stick because she’s saving it for Santa’s reindeer. It’s a simple story – but perhaps too simple to fill its 90 seconds. According to our brand monitoring tools, some viewers complained that the ad was too long. Far more thought it was cute and Christmassy though, and it comes tantalisingly close to the 4-Star boundary.


Morrisons, however, cross that boundary with style, with a spot focusing on the supermarket’s “Free From” range and how a young girl gets to share in her brother’s Christmas excitement. Our viewers loved the warmth of the brother-sister relationship and the ad is a 4-Star success, Morrison’s best-ever Christmas showing.

These ads demonstrate two important wider points about creative ads. First, you can make your products and range the hero of an ad, but you have to fold them into a human story at the same time to get the impact that drives long-term profitable growth.

Second, and more important, the ads show the benefit of not stressing out too much about target audiences. Not many McDonald’s customers buy the carrot sticks. Few Morrisons shoppers need their Free From range. If the only thing these brands cared about was targeting and relevance, they wouldn’t have chosen these products to focus on. But by making emotion the centre of the campaigns, they appeal to every potential customer and have a far better chance of building their brands.

Written by Tom Ewing, Head of Communications, System1


At System1, we help the world’s largest advertisers make confident, creative decisions that lead to transformational business results. Our powerful ad testing platform (Test Your Ad) and our idea testing platform (Test Your Idea) help brands predict the commercial potential of ads and ideas. Complementing TYA and TYI is Test Your Brand, our brand tracking tool which measures the impact of ads and ideas on brand health, ensuring long-term brand growth through predictive success.
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