Brands have made a tradition of making people cry at Christmas, notices VCCP Creative Director David Beattie.
Every year I dabble with trying something new for Christmas. Maybe I’ll ditch the turkey in favour of another dry roasted meat. Maybe I’ll get all my shopping done early and avoid the last minute dash around Oxford Street. Maybe I’ll pace myself and not drink myself into a coma at every Christmas party. Maybe I’ll go somewhere hot and pretend that Christmas doesn’t even exist. But every year I have the same answer… I love my Christmas and it wouldn’t be Christmas without the traditions I have built up over the years. And for me, that includes the annual competition from advertisers to make the nation cry. And this year’s annual dropping of the ‘feelings bomb’ has been no different.
So, with the party season already taking its toll, the last minute shopping panic already setting in, and as I begin to prepare for a day of reindeer jumpers, copious amounts of food and drink and a snoozy Christmas afternoon – I asked myself do we need to cry to buy this Christmas.
Once again I looked to John Lewis to kick off the tear fest and they didn’t disappoint. Monty the Penguin’s heartfelt story of companionship hit the top of my cry-o-meter (sad soppy git that I am) and the production value was nothing short of what I have come to expect from a John Lewis Christmas ad. The warm and cosy feeling I expected was achieved. However, unlike last year’s Bear and the Hare story, it lacked the element of the unexpected that I was craving. Greedy, I know. And normally that wouldn’t matter, especially over Christmas where change for me is usually sacrilege. But I felt myself wanting more.
And ‘more’ for me was what Sainsbury’s delivered. Their tribute to fallen soldiers was both emotional and unexpected. The story was beautifully brought to life and - maybe because of my love for the beautiful game - hit me in the heart like a tonne of bricks. On first viewing I was a little taken aback. A famous but untold WW1 war story being used by a supermarket to sell its brand over Christmas… I wasn’t sure if it felt right at first. But on second, third, tenth viewing it was perfect. The story needed to be told and I for one thank Sainsbury’s for telling it. It was handled with the care, attention and all the love it deserved.
And the tear fest kept on coming. Boots has pulled on the heartstrings also, showing a family waking up in the early hours of Boxing Day so that they can celebrate it with their mum, a nurse who comes back from her night shift. A lovely story that brings to life the fact that people are the most important aspect of any Christmas. With many years of having to share my mum with her work on Christmas day, it really hit home.
Not all of this year’s ads needed to be new. The sound of Coca-Cola’s ‘Holidays are Coming’ and Toy’s R Us’ ‘Magical Place’ adverts being re-run are also a tradition I couldn’t live without. They have been a big part of growing up for me and every time I see them, or more specifically hear the music, it always reminds me of the excitement I felt around Christmas as a child. For me, it also proves that not everything has to be a heartwarming story and that a classic can create the same emotion - as long as you have a relationship with it previously.
But is all this crying really necessary? Sparkle, glitz and celebration are also powerful tools to use over the Christmas period. Marks and Spencer’s ‘Follow the Fairies’ and Argos’ ‘Get set for Advent’ are both great examples of how you can create excitement around a brand over Christmas without having to pull on people’s heartstrings.
Beautifully put together, Marks and Spencer’s ‘Follow the Fairies’ was pure sparkle - reminding me that luxury is a huge part of gift giving for Christmas.
And Argos’ ‘Get Set for Advent’ was a great example of how advertising can help people reappraise a brand through injecting a little energy and fun into its communications - even if I do miss their laminated book of dreams during the festive season.
With all that said… talkability - or populating culture as we call it at VCCP - is a great indicator of how effective any advert is. So for me the ads that have created the most buzz – be it your parents discussing it over dinner, or friends chatting about it down the pub, people sharing it on Facebook or even the news and TV programmes referencing it as a feature story – are the ones that have succeeded, and the tearjerkers get the most coverage all the time. Do we need to cry before we buy? Well, only time will tell, but if people are talking about it it’s cut through and thus half the job is done. I for one have made our annual dropping of the ‘feelings bomb’ a part of my Christmas tradition, and hope that advertisers’ competiveness to make the nation cry the hardest lasts for a very long time to come.
Creative Director at VCCP - and Christmas softy