Christmas advertising is wearing thin and it’s still November!

Suffering with a bout of seasonal cold I’ve had more than my fair share of TV over the last week as I have been lying prone on the sofa feeling sorry for myself. My fill of Christmas ads has just about hit the OD level so vocal grumpiness has started, and it’s still November. God help us all.

Central casting has had their usual requests; snow, happy children, wrapped presents, a well- known track, party hats, grinning parents. It’s all one big cliché and very few avoid the trap of doing a generic bit of promotion for Christmas just in case we forget. I never understand how advertisers can be so dumb and think they will be the only advertiser on TV using the Christmas props.

The latest offering is from Westfield (for those readers not in London Westfield comprises two shopping malls, one in east and one in west London). The TV work has been created and produced by Yellowdoor, the ad agency owned by Mary Portas, she of retail guru status. Based on this example I think she should stick to what she knows about and not do an Alan Sugar – an expert on everything and anything.

The Westfield TV ad is cliché central, and is rubbish as a consequence. The take out is quite hard to describe because it seems the creative idea didn’t quite do the job for the client so they resorted to adding titles over the action. The client says they wanted to express there is “something for everyone” at Westfield but it does the reverse. It feels small not big, my guess is a small production budget, so the visuals on screen look as thought it was shot in a small studio. Then there’s Rod Stewart singing his cover of “Santa Claus is coming to town” which has got rock all to do with the intended proposition for Westfield. It singularly fails to establish Westfield’s main reason to consider it as the main shopping venue for all things Christmas – it’s a big, shiny, modern shopping mall with a wide range of retail names all under one roof away from the cold and rain.

It begins to feel to me as though John Lewis wins the Christmas advertising contest by a mile, followed by some very good efforts by the few such as M&S and then there are the rest.  Both ad agency, adam&eveDDB, and the John Lewis client could be forgiven for acquiring certain smugness but it would be understandable. They are in a class of their own at the moment.

The origin of DDB was of course BMP who were a creative giant in their time. It seems to me the merger with adam&eve may well have been smarter than the obvious. BMP were very good at nailing an emotional observation and milking it for all it was worth. Remember Cadbury’s Smash and the Martians? They’ve handled VW for ever and again class advertising for decades. The John Lewis work is in the same league, way above the majority of advertising around for any category. Years ago BBH would reveal the latest work for Levi 501 to the UK’s assembled journalists; the same event is now the preserve of John Lewis.

What I don’t understand is why so many advertisers don’t think more intelligently about their Christmas activity. As Dave Trott said a number of years ago “you know it is going to happen at the same time every year so why not think about it in plenty of time”. Well said. You can guarantee the cliché’s will be in abundance so first off let’s not fall in to that trap. Secondly you can also guarantee the viewing public will get so confused about who said what and why almost everything merges in to on big cliché. It doesn’t take a PhD to conclude ‘be different’ as a starting point plus ‘be differentiated’. It can’t be that hard. And if you do decide to go down the conventional Christmas route, make sure it’s brilliant, like John Lewis filming in New Zealand rather than a cramped studio in Acton.

I still have another month of Christmas ads and then the sales bombardment. I bet there are numerous client and agency teams at the moment huddled together in an edit suite in Soho trying to decide whether to feature the red or green sofa in their sale ad. What they are not thinking about is their competitors; they are doing exactly the same thing!

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