Christmas ads: Dreaming of the right one

IF television advertising is a purgatory we are forced to endure for 51 weeks of the year, the arrival of those clever Christmas adverts can often make for better viewing than many of the tired specials and movies dominating the schedules.

With advertisers increasingly beginning their campaigns earlier, the cheerful jingle of those Coca-Cola trucks trundling across a snowy landscape is a sure sign that it’s time to make that shopping list — even if the nuts and apples from Halloween are still scattered around the house. Such is the hype around these seasonal offerings, this year’s John Lewis advert was premiered on Channel 4 as an ‘event’ two months ago — complete with the broadcaster giving over a full commercial break and introducing it with a fanfare usually reserved for a major feature film.

If consumers are holding on ever tighter to their wallets during the recession, retailers are spending larger amounts on the Christmas advert.

As always, this year’s Marks & Spencer advert comes loaded with glitter and glitz as it tries to claim the high ground in the seasonal retail battle.

Carrying the tagline, ‘believe in magic and sparkle’, the 120-second advert begins with model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley chasing after her adorable dog down a manhole on a cold winter’s night. Entering an Alice in Wonderland-type world, finding herself at a tea party hosted by the Mad Hatter, model David Gandy, complete with Red Riding Hood and Aladdin.

Eventually Rosie gets to link arms with Gandy as they stroll down a yellow brick road to massive oak doors which open to reveal a giant Helena Bonham Carter as the Wizard of Oz. Rosie gets her pooch, Sparkle, back as well as, presumably, some face time with the Gorgeous Gandy — while we are left to contemplate the two minutes that’s gone forever.

Marks & Spencer’s business development director, Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, described the ad as: “Trying to recapture the magical essence of Christmas that our customers tell us is synonymous with M&S.”

Often, it’s the classics that stand out best in this season of Main Street madness and thrashed credit ratings.

The Guinness advert, which begins with church bells chiming midnight as a man and his dog regard falling snowflakes in front of the Custom House, is a slow-burning winner. Every frame is packed with an essential Irish essence. A couple throwing snowballs on Cork’s St Patrick’s Hill, an iced-over fishing boat by the Claddagh, a horse staring silently into a frosty twilight, and the last upstairs light extinguished in a country pub we’d all like to have a Christmas hot whiskey in.

“As with any great advertising, the secret is finding the insight that rings true with the audience,” says John Gildea, Owens DDB creative director.

“Christmas is a time that has many emotional connotations, but to get something that really connects with the public you have to find a fresh way of bringing it to life. The UK advertising industry has turned this period into their equivalent of the Superbowl with all the major retail brands battling it out to produce the one commercial everyone is talking about.”

He cites the John Lewis 2011 campaign, ‘For gifts you can’t wait to get’ as the best of recent years.

“Why did it work so well? It presented the insight of the joy of giving in a surprising and emotionally engaging manner. As a viewer you’re convinced the boy is just counting the days and hours ’til Christmas morning when he will get the chance to unwrap his presents — only to reveal his true motivation is his excitement at the prospect of giving his parents their Christmas present.”

John Gildea’s own favourite is the Guinness ‘Dreaming of a white one’ classic.

“Everyone has high hopes every year for the perfect Christmas and the music, performances and art direction all come together perfectly to chime in the holiday spirit. How many of us can have enjoyed a white Christmas? Not many, but we all dream of one, and even if it doesn’t snow we know we’ll still enjoy a great time with family and friends. Perfect.”

Paul Moran, creative director at Mediaworks, echoes the sentiments. “My favourite Christmas ads include the latest Lidl Christmas commercial screened on the Late Late Toy Show and the ESB ad ‘Going Home’, starring a young Alan Hughes from TV3.”


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