Advertising Christmas crackers
Tanya Sweeney reveals the essential ingredients to creating a festive TV winner
You wait and wait all year (fine, 10 months) and then, just like the 46A, a blizzard of Christmas adverts suddenly come at us all at once. Designed to make us feel all cuddly inside - or rageful, it depends - the Christmas advert jamboree is there for a few reasons; to make us cry a tear or two and tell everyone about it on Facebook; to make us hug our family members a little bit tighter; and, of course, to shop.
But some industry insiders have had it up to here with the snow-covered jollity.
"I detest Christmas advertising," admits award-winning copywriter Nick McGivney. "The insufferable playing on emotions that runs unchecked at this time of year, when it's far too early to be assaulted by ridiculously snowy scenes that don't even match the climate anymore, never mind the tiny little molecule of Christian spirit that's left at the heart of the red and green circus. I'd ban the whole lot of them."
The general theme seems to be "underneath we're all the same really", especially for big brands like John Lewis and Guinness. But how do you create a cuddly festive icon that will last through the ages?
"I think the perfect iconic Christmas ad needs a few ingredients," notes Rory Hamilton, executive director of ad agency Boys & Girls. "Christmas is a time for family, friends and more traditional values, but if the ad strays into 'sad-vertising' then people will see right through it.
"I think a great Christmas ad needs a little bit of magic - we all want to believe at Christmas so a little magic goes a long way. Finally, if you want it to become a classic, it has to be timeless." And between some much loved classics and this year's contenders, we've started to see a pattern or two forming…
1. Don't mention the 's' word
Every so often, a campaign comes under fire for revealing Santa's true identity. Last year, John Lewis was the culprit, while this year Amazon have dropped themselves in it by insinuating presents come from a massive warehouse in Bristol.
2. It's all about home
In Christmas adverts, home is never the place where people fight about lumpy gravy, getting One4All vouchers or who has dominion over the remote control. In TV land, once you step over the threshold of any house that has even a hint of tinsel in it, all tensions will melt away.
You'll recall how the prodigal son in the iconic ESB ad came home after (we're guessing) abandoning his mammy and the local nightclub for the bright lights of the city. No matter, all bad feelings were swept under the carpet as mammy stuck on every appliance in the house as a sort of truce. Fast forward to the present day and the Boots ad, where two Scottish sisters take time out from alternately tearing lumps out of each other and holding each other's hair back while being sick in the pub toilets for a deep and meaningful gift exchange. Which brings us nicely to…
3. You need an 80s track
The aforesaid Boots advert has revived the Yazoo classic 'Only You', and it's not the first campaign to throw in a hefty dash of nostalgia. John Lewis has been in the racket for years, soundtracking its iconic campaigns with classics like 'Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want', 'The Power Of Love' and 'One Day I'll Fly Away'.
This year, Moz The Monster plays out to the Beatles' 'Golden Slumbers', which beats Coca-Cola's 'Holidays Are Comin', or Penneys' 'Got A Whole Lot Of Things For Christmas' by a good country mile.
4. Thou shalt not take the Lord's likeness in vain (with a sausage roll)
Or rather, you will if you want your advert to go viral. British baker Gregg's replaced the baby Jesus in a nativity scene with a giant sausage roll. The three wise men never looked more excited, but still, the ad has caused consternation. The chief executive of the Freedom Association, a right wing pressure group, claimed the advert was "sick" and that the retailer would "never dare" insult other religions. The UK Evangelical Alliance strongly criticised the baker, saying it was a gimmick that seemed to be about "manufacturing a scandal to sell baked goods".
5. Snow makes everything look better
An Post had the Snowman deliver their post in a 2005 advert, and the campaign is still going strong. Elsewhere, in the iconic Guinness advert, shown for the first time in 2004, a snowfall even manages to make Patrick's Hill in Cork look like a magical wonderland.
In any case, the whole shebang worked. Mal Stevenson, who oversaw the campaign at Irish International for Diageo, told the Irish Independent: "What we wanted to achieve with it, and what I think all good Christmas advertising aspires to, is to be evocative and emotional. Trying to give the viewer that lump-in-the-throat moment should be a guiding principle and that can be done through imagery and music. I can't stress enough how important music is for cranking up the emotion."
6. Make old people cranky (but not too cranky)
Lidl have whacked it out of the ballpark with an Irish family descending on their old home and giving it a spruce-up as a surprise for their widowered patriarch. "What's going on here, Fi?" he demands before going all soft at the sight of his extended family (and the leccy back on in the house). Derry songstress SOAK added the atmospherics - proof positive that the right song will do much of the emotional spadework.
7. Add Paddington Bear into the mix, because why not?
Marks & Spencer attempts to take on the might of the John Lewis advert each year, and Paddington Bear is certainly giving Moz The Monster a run for his money. (They've clearly learned a thing or two from Aldi's Kevin The Carrot, who appeared last year in a wallet-busting, live action sequence). In this year's M&S advert, the cuddly teddy bear inadvertently foils a burglary by encouraging him to deliver his stolen goods as Santa. He then gets a marmalade sandwich for his troubles. As you do.