We Wish You a Merry Christmas… and an Emotional New Year
It’s getting very close to that time of the year when we surrender ourselves to sparkle and when the spirit of giving stirs our feelings of empathy and care. As we wait with anticipation for the new John Lewis ad, which for many of us marks the start of the Christmas season, I’m reminded of a story from last year. A good friend joined the annual march of tourists in search for the Gingery Lebkuchen in the Christmas markets of Germany. She drove to Cologne not just for the biscuits, but also the cosy Christmas atmosphere, which the Germans lovingly call gemütlichkeit. And then she decided to drive in search for the German supermarket Edeker. For no other reason, but because she had watched the supermarket’s Christmas campaign. The story of a lonely old man whose family repeatedly make excuses for not visiting at Christmas connected emotionally with her, making her care enough to seek out the retailer and experience it for herself.
In terms of impact, originality and emotion, it surpassed last year’s John Lewis ad. But it’s not only the tear jerkers during Christmas that log deep into our consciousness. Christmas has become the only time of the year when advertising reaches the same level of entertainment as the programmes on commercial TV. The Christmas stories (or content, whatever you want to call it) produced in ad campaigns is something that people of all ages across Britain look forward to. They command news stories, make for radio commentaries, and get us all talking about the merits of them all, and which one is our ‘favourite’.
It’s the only time of the year when not just the ad industry, but everybody outside our tiny community, gets excited about the ideas, the craft and the production values of advertising. The one time of the year when advertisers realise their customers are humans with emotions that are powerful when it comes to their decision-making. The time of the year when advertising makes us care.
Emotion is the key to intimacy between businesses, brands and people. It’s there in every choice we make. But it’s the way emotion is used that makes it a powerful selling tool. Reviewing the most memorable Christmas ads of the past couple of years there are key elements that they share.
‘The Long Wait’ spot for John Lewis is still my favourite because the storytelling is so beautiful. The balance of emotion we feel as we see the excited little boy desperate for Christmas day to come and the twist that it’s because he wants to give, rather than receive a present is very human. It’s so well observed – full of small details that unfold the story in a way that resonates with us all.
I grew up with ‘The Wonder of Woolies’ and Quality Street ads defining Christmas. It’s a time when it’s OK for brand owners to go large and cinematic. It’s also a time when consumers want to be entertained and are happy to drop their guard and fall in love with brands that fan the flames of passion, that make them laugh and cry and make them life-long fans. (My friend is making another stop at Edeker this year).
Pulling at heart strings
Something about Christmas makes it OK to celebrate humanity and tenderness. The emotional Christmas ads from Monty the Penguin to Mog the Cat tap into something that’s completely life affirming. Parents rushed to Sainsbury’s to buy the Mog book because it felt cold-hearted not to. We’re happy to weep openly without shame because we understand that’s how we’re supposed to react, because we’re filled with empathy and warmth.
The ultimate reason we all share ads is the intensity of emotion. Several studies have proven this. Great emotional ads are all highly shared and therefore drive higher brand recall.
But what’s puzzling is why we restrict such powerful emotional advertising to one season. Let’s not make Christmas advertising our guilty pleasure. There’s nothing stopping us from making ads that are uplifting, inspiring and that tap into our emotions at any time of the year. We know they work so let’s start making more ads that make us laugh, fill us with passion, that surprise us, that excite and entertain us as well as make us cry.
David Harris is Executive Creative Director, gyro London