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Amazon’s singing boxes were a fixture of the brand’s Christmas communications for many years, playing a big part in the campaign’s success. The bright and bubbly characters warmed hearts and brought Christmas joy to many. But not only that, they successfully leveraged Amazon’s strongest asset — its universally-recognized ‘smiley face’ logo. At its peak, Amazon’s 2019 Christmas spot outperformed even John Lewis’ ‘Excitable Edgar'.
However, following this success the brand made the peculiar decision to shift course and drop the cute singing boxes to instead make way for a more cinematic, heart-felt storytelling approach. 2020’s inspirational narrative paid homage to the important life moments missed as a result of the pandemic — aptly titled ‘The show must go on’. While striking a chord with viewers, very little about it cued people into the Amazon brand.
Aiming to recapture these same emotional heights, Amazon adopted a similar strategy in 2021, creating a heartfelt narrative which sees a Good Samaritan reach out to her lonely neighbor. The ad shines a light on the mounting mental health impact of prolonged lockdowns, and the disproportionate effect this has had on those living alone — encouraging people to look out for others in the community who might be doing it tough.
Is this new creative approach starting to “bed-in”, and could it possibly reach the same heights as the famous singing boxes? We assessed its strength by analyzing the 3 C’s which underpin marketing success:
Featuring Adele’s ‘Hold On’, the 2021 spot leveraged a familiar backing track to amplify the story’s twists and turns, and to cue the desired emotional response.
The powerful music was, however, unable to do all the heavy lifting. While the ad’s conclusion featuring a young woman receiving a touching gift — and subsequently befriending her neighbor — evoked some feelings of warmth, the story ultimately lacked the same emotionally-charged conclusion of 2020’s ‘The Show Must Go On’.
Many instead found the eventual resolve to be flat and downbeat, reflected in significantly lower happiness, excitement, and inspiration than previous years. The slow build-up and absence of a moving climax to the 2-minute film resulted in many describing the ad as dull and boring.
The singing boxes — which were a feature of Amazon’s Christmas communications up until 2019 — were an especially powerful device because the ‘smile’ logo not only instantaneously cued the Amazon brand, but it also triggered immediate warmth. The key role they played in driving the narrative forward further amplified their impact.
Unsurprisingly, the departure from this asset over the last two years has adversely affected the strength of connection back to Amazon. More broadly, shifting from a bright and fun tone (often the feeling you get when receiving an unexpected delivery) to something much deeper, more meaningful, and visually darker jarred with people’s expectations of the brand.
This meant that, even despite attempts to feature the brand as the enabler behind the eventual resolve, Amazon’s role was seen to be largely superfluous.
With Amazon lacking a meaningful or visible presence in the story, the chances of people attributing any warmth from the ad back onto the brand was impeded. More broadly, brands risk getting lost amongst the glut of advertisers taking similarly sentimental storytelling approaches at Christmas.
2020’s ‘The Show Must Go On’ touched on the lowly moments of the pandemic, contrasting this against a young woman’s story of persistence. 2021’s gift of a birdfeeder, while touching, didn’t deliver as powerful a resolve. As a result, people weren’t left feeling particularly favorable toward Amazon.
The pandemic presented marketers with significant challenges in 2020, particularly around striking the right tone at Christmas. Lots felt the need to pivot to something more sentimental and ‘thoughtful’ given the hardships being faced by many — a trend which has seemingly carried through to 2021.
Amazon’s Christmas communications have been a microcosm of this shift — toning down its previously upbeat tenor in favor of one which blends in more with the broader chorus of Christmas advertisers.
This isn’t to say the approach can’t work; however, our current top-performer in 2021 — ALDI’s ‘Kevin the Carrot’ — shows that this strategy has a much better chance of success if the brand has strong distinctive assets to lean upon.
While characters and ambassadors are often derided for being old-fashioned and stifling creativity, that they work can’t be denied. Amazon have an asset which isn’t just the envy of many others, but epitomizes the brand and role it plays in many people’s lives. Will we see Amazon return to its playful roots in 2022 as the global mood increasingly shifts toward one of optimism?