Why It’s Christmas in June for UK Ads

Tom Ewing, Senior Director – Labs, talks UK XMAS ad season.


Happy Christmas to all our Readers! Well, to all our readers in UK Adland, at any rate, where the holiday season is well underway, with brands planning their Christmas campaigns and working on their festive copy. Getting yourself into the Yuletide spirit as the mercury rises and people break out the barbeques isn’t easy. But that’s what plenty of creatives and planners are having to do, looking to hit exactly the right emotional note to delight and inspire the British public.


Brands in other countries might look on our Christmas ad obsession with a rather quizzical eye. It’s the commercial equivalent of the pop charts’ race for Christmas No.1 – a cultural quirk which doesn’t seem to be replicated elsewhere. But the consequences of getting your Christmas ad right are very real.


Of course, Christmas matters in marketing anywhere because it’s the most concentrated sales period of any given year. But Britain’s Christmas advertising goes beyond that. Especially in the last decade, brands have looked not just for short term holiday sales activation but towards the power of Christmas ads to build brands and drive profitable growth.


The trend-setter here is, of course, department store John Lewis, whose stories of “thoughtful gifting” have helped define the modern British Christmas ad – a beautifully told story, with memorable characters, which draws an emotional arc from sadness to happiness. In our new book, we look at John Lewis’ long-term campaign, which won an IPA Effectiveness Award, and explore how it’s built from year to year, ad to ad, increasing market share from 22% in 2012 to 29% in 2015.


The other thing that John Lewis successfully did was to turn the British Christmas Ad into a media event – part of the Christmas news cycle in Britain and a major draw on social media. John Lewis has been joined by a host of other brands – most of them fellow retailers – who look to make blockbuster seasonal ads. It’s all added up to make Christmas the UK’s biggest festival of emotional advertising.

Every year, when we rate ads for our FeelMore50 ranking, the UK winners are largely Christmas ads. Monty The Penguin, our highest-rated John Lewis ad, telling the story of a boy and his lonely penguin friend, gained a rare 5-Star rating. But John Lewis doesn’t have things all its own way – last year, an excellent ad by M&S, Mrs.Claus, took the Christmas crown, and commercials from retailers Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco regularly pick up press attention.

Not every Christmas ad is an emotional winner – edgy humour doesn’t go over well, and some firms still stick with conveyor belts of products which have low emotional impact and don’t do much for long term branding. Our annual tests reveal a real spread of quality – from 1-Star turkeys to 5-Star ads with all the emotional trimmings – and it’s well worth brands monitoring and optimising their Christmas spots early.

Of course, there’s a downside to the concentration of emotional ads at Christmas time – there’s a lot of competition, and great adverts can build brands all year round. So why not air and share ads which make people feel good all the time, not just in November and December? But for now, Christmas is when emotional British advertising shines the brightest. Season’s Greetings – and the best of luck! – to all the brands working hard right now to make our Christmas a little bit Merrier.

Check out all the 2016 UK XMAS winners.

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 testing tool which measures the impact of ads and ideas on brand health, ensuring long-term brand growth through predictive success.
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