Xmas in Adworld

It is clearly Bah Humbug time for me. Can you remember the scene in ‘About a Boy’ where Hugh Grant was playing the chap who didn’t work because his dad had written a Christmas hit that is played every year? Just like Slade. Anyhow he is in a supermarket in November and hears the song over the sound system and sighs as it is not December. Well last week I was in Ealing and I spotted a house with a Christmas tree fully loaded with sparkely lights. I was so depressed!

Then I had an email from M&S the next day suggesting I could view their Christmas TV ad. I struggled to delete but my inner curiosity compelled me to have a quick look that turned in to a few repeats of the X Factor folk singing along to an old song all about the season we are about to be hurled in to.

Hmmm. I guess RKCR/Y&R (they must shorten this by the way) and the M&S client know what they are doing as both are pretty smart groups. I tried to compare the ad with my nearest M&S in the Kings Road. I’m talking poles apart. The Kings Road branch is not their finest hour as a retailer. Given the location it should be a show outlet but it isn’t; it is dull, dull dull. I never see anyone buying in the clothes sections for either men or women. The food section is however a good place for locals and there is a free car park.

So I’m comparing the Christmas blockbuster with my local store and thinking the two are not joined up. The TV spot implies a store for young people with a bit of underwear interest and I’m thinking it is so far from what I observe when we pop in for the Sancerre and Gravalax. I don’t understand how a brand can produce glossy and expensive film expressing what they would like to be seen as rather than how they are seen. The gap is to big a leap to make and I would have thought would lead to disappointment and ultimately bad word of mouth comment. My score 4/10

Some work I was involved with some years ago on retail suggested quite strongly that the experience of the local store was more influential than any other factor such as advertising. This meant that advertising should in many ways underclaim rather than the opposite. At Ogilvy we had the Argos account and the work that ran for some years used the Status Quo track “Whatever You Want”. It was a simple technique to illustrate the range of products available. It was also by coincidence during their boom years of growth. Since then they have meandered all over the place and currently are having tough trading times coincidentally.

The Argos advertising was in the top 10 of the AdWatch charts every time it was on air and most importantly it never tried to implie who the target audience was or wasn’t. The work avoided the temptation of showing the customer – it was left to the viewer to decide what they felt or desired.

Then I see their Christmas special. It is the Smash Martians idea with different aliens. Hmmmm again. Again 4/10

However moving on to John Lewis. Me a lifelong loyal customer. Love it. Back to the comparison with the Kings Road, Peter Jones is iconic and full of Sloane Rangers buying their home essentials and 42 inch TV’s whereas good old M&S down the road feels like a sad persons shopping experience. But what about the advertising for Christmas? Most of us found the recent campaign baffling so as loyal supporters we are all hoping for a wonderful seasonal uplifting adfest. The Smiths? Well makes more sense than the X Factor team. Thinking age group here The Smiths are c. 1984′ish so if you were 16 -18 back then today we are looking at early 40′s. Spot on. Married, young kids, doing OK with career and can afford a bit of self indulgence. Good casting, on brand and a feel good factor. 

However, despite the reported hits on the internet, I am not convinced. The plot has been around for ever and I was waiting for the killer idea, and I waited and waited. When the boy stands at the door of the parents bedroom I was left hanging in the air. Obvious maybe and a big Ahh factor for parents of young children but as a John Lewis loyalist I just didn’t get it beyond the switch from expecting presents to giving them. Generic? 8/10 for production/casting/editing; 2/10 for idea and relevance.

I was starting to feel like the grumpy old man until Waitrose blasted through my TV screen. What a feast of colour, ideas, food, anticipation – just a blast of scrummy, gorgeousness. Brilliant. 10/10 for production and 10/10 for a refreshing Christmas ad.

Back to the first example I wonder why the M&S marketing team think the X Factor idea is right for them. It is so not their profile, the performers will be forgotten by New Years Eve, and it is highly probable it will not be received with empathy by the core customer group. Trying to make a brand with one age profile relevant to a different age profile is a very hard task. As a friend of mine who has a great deal of marketing wisdom says “It’s like putting lipstick on a gorilla – it’s still a gorilla”

Bah Humbug and Happy Christmas.


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