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The Festive Debate 2018: where do you stand?

It’s that time of year again when advertising enters popular conversation on the back of festive campaigns that do for the UK what the Superbowl does for the US. However much we wish otherwise, most people do not discuss brand communications unless asked to by a well-briefed researcher. That all changes at this time of the year – as the competition between brands trying to mark themselves as the festive victor sparks debate. Here at Brand Learning it’s been no different. We asked our team which ads caught their eye, and what does that mean for capability-building. There were more opinions than number of people – and here we share what a few of our marketing capability experts said. 

Nevine El-Warraky, Co-CEO

For me, Sainsbury’s focused on capturing the Christmas feeling and made an advert that felt more sophisticated than Christmas puddings and turkeys. It captured the essence of what Christmas is about with warmth and celebration, and a family-focused narrative that tugs on the heartstrings of a wide audience: old and new parents alike, and anyone that has ever participated in or seen a school nativity. It was not excessively branded and made me wait till the end to find out who’s it was, which feels appropriate for a Christmas campaign, it should be about sentiment. Although it’s been compared to the John Lewis & Partners and Waitrose & Partners ad that follows a children’s musical of Bohemian Rhapsody, Sainsbury’s don’t go for grandiosity with an elaborate epic but stay true to their core branding with an ad that is simply warm and fuzzy, which is all you really want at Christmas time (that and children dressed up as baubles and Christmas light plugs!)


Hayley Spurling, Group Client Director and Brand VP


I love the customer insights behind the Boots #GiftsThatGetThem advertising. It takes a strong foundational insight that applies across gifting occasions – the desire of people to be known and thoughtfully appreciated for who they are. Then it adds a powerful lens of being appreciated as a parent by the toughest critic they face (a teenage child). It is beautifully executed with insightful attention to details from music to casting to set design. I’d love for them to take the insight across the entire customer experience – so far it’s not clear to me how it will be executed online and instore. Perhaps they’ll take inspiration from Office Depot’s fantastic work in 2015 where they created the Co-workers Collection

Office Depot "Coworker Collection" from max sherman on Vimeo.

Nina Holdaway, MD UKI & Nordics

Much debated and yes…banned…my vote goes to Iceland! As the first British retailer to remove palm oil from all its own-label products earlier this year, I think Iceland’s Christmas ad is very apt.
It conveys an important, highly emotive message, reminding us of the detrimental environmental impact we are having and encouraging us all to think again…Thumbs up for a Christmas ad with a purpose, refreshing and contemporary!

Sarah Jones, Brand Director

My pick is from the US, Microsoft, Reindeer Games: Featuring Owen and the Xbox Adaptive Controller. 9-year-old Owen is cheered on and celebrated by his gaming friends in a spot full of festive cheer, as he uses the innovative accessible Xbox controller to ace his way to victory. The ad showcases innovation by Microsoft as part of their mission to “create accessible tech that levels the playing field”. It could have been a “worthy” ad that signals Microsoft’s work on accessibility but instead taps into the excitement and joy all kids get from gaming, no matter their differences, to create a real emotional connection.

Pathman Ruthirapathy, Digital Associate Director

In a world where there is a lot of sadness and hostility, Aldi’s Christmas ad brings a level of humour that few grocery retailers are able to beat. The tongue and cheek tone of this ad sets Aldi apart from other retailers in a competitive market, creating a point of differentiation.

Martin Borrett, Managing Director International Business Development

John Lewis, one national treasure, has worked its magic again in their Christmas ad, teaming up with another national treasure, Elton John. Beautifully executed, it works for me as entertainment (although I must confess to being an Elton John fan…) and lands its message about the power of gifts. It helps that Elton John is currently selling tickets for his farewell tour. The other John Lewis ad is nicely done, too. From Twitter, it stars a real life American called John Lewis, who is repeatedly confused for the British retailer on Twitter.

The key capability lessons for us were about insight, emotional advertising, and the power of video whether on TV or online. The media channels appear well-balanced, the creative uplifting – and the critical capability challenge for all, is making it work across all the moments that matter in the customer experience. Something that some brands do better than others.

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