OPINION22 November 2016

Advert calendar

Opinion Retail Trends UK

The annual release of Christmas ads has become ingrained in our festive traditions, says Research Now’s Michael Murray. Research shows that the most successful ads tap into the need for nostalgia.

Buster the boxer crop

The annual release of big retail brand Christmas adverts is an event, like Superbowl adverts in the US, that transcends the normal advertising world.

In the last couple of weeks there has been significant media buzz caused by retailers such as John Lewis and Marks and Spencer dropping their seasonal offerings.

But what makes a great Christmas advert? To find out more, we asked some of our UK panellists, through our video feedback tool, what their favourite Christmas adverts are from any year, and what appeals to them.

Personally watching the video content it is easy to see the richness of response we capture versus a more traditional verbatim response. We found that favourite Christmas adverts were dominated by John Lewis and Coca-Cola, with a few notable declarations for last year’s Sainsbury’s advert featuring Mog the Cat.

There was a palpable excitement as to what would be released this year, with many respondents stating that for them the yearly release of Christmas ads, particularly Coca-Cola, signalled the real start of Christmas.

For me it used to be opening the first window of my advent calendar, but now I am seeing myself sharing the latest release of a Christmas ad… how things have changed.

The indications are that Christmas adverts have become as ingrained into the national traditions of Christmas as the switching on of lights, or the Christmas number one. And this feeling of tradition is one of the key elements when it comes to the success of the advert.

Nostalgia was a key term for many of our respondents when it came to describing the aspects they are looking for in their Christmas adverts. In fact tradition, or terms that evoke a traditional vision of Christmas, such as snow, Christmas trees, and presents, were common themes that ran through almost all of the videos our participants provided.

With advertising seemingly a recent addition to this seasonal time, it might be seen to some as a rather cynical element of the Christmas cannon with a move towards a more modern, more consumer-centric Christmas experience.

But what is clear from the insights we gathered in this study is that the adverts that work well are those that really tap into a more traditional sense of Christmas: consumers are looking for warmth and humour, as well as elements of nostalgia and tradition.

One of the most important elements mentioned by participants was music, with a particularly high number of mentions for the Coca-Cola jingle. Music is profoundly linked to personal memories, so the Coca-Cola jingle, which has been the same for years, is able to tap into those feelings of nostalgia and tradition to become a significant element of the traditional Christmas experience for many consumers.

Michael Murray is associate director at Research Now