Is it too early to put up the Christmas tree yet? Moreover, is it too soon to give a post-mortem on this year’s Christmas ad strategies? 

We may not know whether they’ve directly impacted on sales so far, but one thing’s for certain:  this year’s ads have signalled a shift in the retail landscape and the economic uncertainty around Brexit. 

A fall in advertising spend of up to 8% during the last quarter of 2018 has resulted in lower budget ads – a departure from the blockbusters of recent years. Here’s five things we’ve learned from this year’s motley crew. 

Getting banned can be part of a marketing strategy 

We’ve all seen Iceland’s Greenpeace film on palm oil ad…on YouTube. It was rejected on TV for being ‘too political’ – could this have been a clever shockadvertising tactic to divert consumers to view online? It generated millions of owned media views on the internet as a result – a win for the brand and Greenpeace. A petition to air the banned ad on TV amassed over a million signatures. 

Kids, kids, kids 

We all know that an emotive, nostalgic and childhood ad generates a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. A winning combo, retailers adopted the ‘Love Actually’ feel-good nativity approach this year, putting school kids on stage. In September, John Lewis and Waitrose partners ad featured a class performing Bohemian Rhapsody on stage. Sainsbury’s adopted a similar approach in this year’s festive ad with ‘The Big Night’. 

Bringing back familiar characters 

We Brits love a good storytelling series, don’t we? From Aldi’s widely popular Kevin the Carrot to the return of the Heathrow’s bears, bringing back loveable – and animated – characters has worked wonders. Both ads ranked third in Brandwatch’s Christmas ad performance with Heathrow going on to top System1’s best performing list. 

Celebrity-backed ads still win big 

There may be a lot of talk around nano and hyper influencers, but when it comes to broad reach on television, brands continue to pull out all the stops for household names. From Burberry’s star power ad: Kristin Scott Thomas, Matt Smith, Naomi Campbell and MIA, to M&S’s Holly Willoughby, Vodafone’s Martin Freeman and of course, John Lewis’ Elton John tribute, celebrities continue to be effective in selling Christmas.  

Balancing the budget, focus on distribution 

There’s a noticeable change in this year’s creative: there are simply less blockbusters and cinematic ads. M&S’s 2017 Paddington ad attracted nearly 7 million views on YouTube but the retailer struggled in Christmas sales. This year, they’ve focused on air time, with customers expected to see the ad ten times more often than last year.

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