Sunday 4 December 2016

Christmas turkeys make way for advertising crackers

It wouldn't be the festive season without TV ads trying to sell us something - this year's theme for many of them is sentimentality and nostalgia

John McGee

Published 27/11/2016 | 02:30

No sooner had the Halloween decorations been taken down and supermarkets cleared of pumpkins, barmbrack and nuts than pyramids of puddings, pies and tins Cadbury's Roses and Ferrero Rocher rose from the aisles as the cut-throat world of retail morphed into a temporary winter wonderland of brands vying for our attention.
No sooner had the Halloween decorations been taken down and supermarkets cleared of pumpkins, barmbrack and nuts than pyramids of puddings, pies and tins Cadbury's Roses and Ferrero Rocher rose from the aisles as the cut-throat world of retail morphed into a temporary winter wonderland of brands vying for our attention.

Any day now, the airwaves will be belting out The Pogues' Fairytale of New York as we hastily wind down to several weeks of fun, festivities and, let's face it, general over-indulgence.

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For those of us who find it difficult to get excited about Christmas until the sprouts are hulled and the mulled-wine is delicately simmering away on Christmas Eve, it's been a tricky few weeks trying to dodge the deluge of Christmas ads, some of which have the same star appeal as Jacob Marley's ghost.

No sooner had the Halloween decorations been taken down and supermarkets cleared of pumpkins, barmbrack and nuts than pyramids of puddings, pies and tins Cadbury's Roses and Ferrero Rocher rose from the aisles as the cut-throat world of retail morphed into a temporary winter wonderland of brands vying for our attention.

But wherever Santa Claus and his reindeer have wandered, brands have never strayed far behind. Pub quiz anoraks may know that the bearded and jovial Santa as we now know him, owes a lot to a first-generation Irish-American called William C D'Arcy whose advertising agency, D'Arcy Advertising in St Louis, was responsible for many of the early depictions of Santa Claus in the 1930s by giving him an early 19th century version of a Photoshopping.

Over the next 20 years or so, and under the direction of The Coca-Cola Company, the artist Haddon Sundblom continued to give him a makeover at regular intervals.

Of course, Coca-Cola doesn't own Santa Claus but its Christmas campaigns, including the more recent Holidays are Coming ones, have featured the big man ever since.

For many people, the first airing of the brand's Christmas ad, much like the annual John Lewis one, heralds in the beginning of Christmas, despite their sanitised predictability.

But there's nothing quite like the festive season to bring out the best in adland and a brief for a Christmas ad is a challenge every ad agency rises to with the same sense of exhilaration and anticipation as a child waiting for, well, Christmas.

While schmaltzy depictions of Christmas may have been staple ingredients in a lot of campaigns in the Christmas Past, the Ghosts of Advertising Present and Yet to Come would appear to be moving us away from crass commercialism into a suspended spiritual world where nostalgia and sentimentality preside.

If this provides enough Yuletide seduction and substantial brand differentiation, then this is the icing on the Christmas cake.

"Christmas is one of the few remaining times when brands allow their true selves out to play.It's a Super Bowl moment for brands. It's often as cathartic for the agency teams as it is for the audience.

Now, more than ever, people are desperate to be positive and Christmas ads provide the perfect short-term escape from all the madness of the year gone by," says Patrick Hickey, chief executive of the Dublin agency Rothco which created this year's uplifting Christmas campaign for retailer Tesco.

"Agencies like ourselves, love to get a Christmas brief. Mainly because we know it'll be a good brief. Every brand wants to win Christmas and briefs are focused on delivering one thing only: warm fuzziness," he adds.

Unlike many other traditional Christmas campaigns, Tesco has ditched Santa Claus and all the commercial Christmas trimmings in favour of sentiment, as real people pay tribute to the hosts that make Christmas happen every year in what is the retailer's biggest, most ambitious and thoughtful Christmas campaign to date.

Nostalgia, meanwhile, also plays centre stage in rival Lidl's Homecoming Christmas campaign. Created by the ad agency Chemistry, the heart-warming ad stirs up feelings and emotions that serve as a gentle reminder that its family, not presents, that should be the most important consideration over the festive season.

This warm, fuzzy and unselfish theme also flows through another Christmas cracker - 3 Mobile's The Girl and the Cloud. Created by Boys and Girls, and set to the hauntingly beautiful music of Wolf Larsen (a former campaign employee for Barack Obama), it's a sequel to last year's campaign, The Perfect Surprise, which showed a girl getting a cloud as a Christmas present.

This year's campaign follows her year-long friendship with her new cumulus companion and when she finally decides to set it free, so it can hang out with its buddies, nimbostratus and cirrostratus, we are reminded that sometimes the perfect surprise is not the one you receive, but the one that you give.

So perhaps, in the spirit of Christmas, we should suspend any lingering cynicism, and embrace the Yuletide adfest for what it is. Because in 29 days' time, it's back to the hum-drum banality of ads promoting the January and Winter sales and yet even more excess.

Maybe then, we'll all be humming the words of Wizard's classic I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day.

Contact John McGee at john@adworld.ie

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