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This is a self-funded case study using our Ad Testing solution.
Like it or not, it’s mid-way through November already, which can only mean one thing — Christmas, and the spectacle of Christmas advertising!
Brands this year have been quicker than usual to release their festive campaigns, looking to make the most of eager shoppers — keen themselves to make up for a year of time away from family and friends. All of which means it’s time for us at Cubery HQ to commence our annual deep dive into the Christmas crackers and puddings of 2021.
Affordable department stores are amongst the most active brands during the festive period, so first up we’re taking a look at Kmart, Target, Big W, and Best&Less. As always, we benchmark performance using our 3 C’s framework:
With many Australians coming out of an extended lockdown and eagerly anticipating quality family time, it’s no surprise that advertisers are attempting to capitalize on people’s heightened sense of togetherness. All four ads created a happy, homely atmosphere, ‘making Christmas perfect’ in their own unique way.
While this established a warm and enjoyable tone, it was also highly passive. Passivity, on its own, isn’t an issue. However, a softer, more ‘pleasant’ tone needs to be complimented by rich emotions and powerful storytelling in order to grab and retain viewers’ attention — of which these ads struggled to do. In an attempt to connect to a sense of ‘life-as-usual’, all four campaigns played it overly safe, subsequently struggling to stand out from the Christmas clutter.
To its commercial detriment, much Christmas advertising taps into the fun and magic of Christmas, but doesn’t frame this in a way that’s unmistakably for the brand — departing from the codes and distinctive properties that define the brand’s year-round communications. Mark Ritson wrote about this topic recently in Marketing Week.
While there’s no doubt the style and tone of these four campaigns has a level of synergy with what consumers generally expect to see from each brand, this also came to their detriment — consumer attitudes toward each retailer don’t vary significantly, so the campaigns largely performed a category job.
Target’s campaign had the strongest level of brand fluency, a big step up on last year’s cinematic effort that felt at odds with the ‘value’ and ‘everyday’ associations people typically connect to it. Kmart went the other way, delivering a more high-end production, and — while people appreciated that the retailer was doing something different — the broader message wasn’t considered unique to the brand.
Given common themes around happiness and connection, each campaign did a good job of building brand favorability, with Best&Less’s use of young children and animals helping it excel in this respect. However, similar creative styles also meant the impressions viewers were left with were largely category generic, with each campaign struggling to build strong brand differentiation.
Soft, sentimental emotions — while nice — are difficult to truly own, particularly at Christmas when everybody is trying to do the same thing. Bonds, another Australian retailer, recognized this — with its Christmas campaign from 2020 one of the most effective, highlighting how it’s possible to stay true to the brand’s values while simultaneously capitalizing on the festive season.
While Christmas presents advertisers with an opportunity to let their hair down, so to speak, and do something a little different than the other 10 months of the year, commercial realities shouldn’t be forgotten. Therefore, the core pillars of success — Captivate, Connect, and Compel — don’t change regardless of season.
While it’s easy for brands to look at the excitement generated by John Lewis each year and want to replicate this success for themselves, it shouldn’t be forgotten that license for such creativity only came as a result of the brand being a pioneer in this space, and then applying a consistent formula for nearly 15 years.
A desire by these four retailers to tap into a nation eagerly anticipating a ‘normal’ post-lockdown Christmas meant the ads all fell into exactly that space – ‘normal’. It’s a reminder again that “emotion”, and the role it plays in advertising’s success, is frequently misunderstood. Too often, emotion is conflated with ‘happiness’ and ‘sentimentality’, which gets very beige very quickly when advertisers jump on-board in droves at Christmas.
Advertisers would be better off tapping into feelings their competitors aren’t — building stories which take viewers through twists and turns, and layering the narrative with less-frequently used emotions such as fear, anger, excitement, and humor. Not only will this move people in a more powerful way, but also build the distinctiveness to stand out — particularly at Christmas.