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Retailers kick off their Christmas ads, but do they still work?

Lauretta Roberts
01 November 2019

It's 1 November and therefore the Christmas ad season has arrived on television screens as retailers hope to end another difficult year with some festive cheer. This year they have the added challenge of a general election taking place less than two weeks before Christmas – an event which is known suppressor of spend at the best of times, let alone when consumer confidence is on the floor and Brexit purgatory persists.

Proceedings kick off tonight with big budget campaigns from Asda and Argos are screening from Friday and Saturday amid predictions by the Advertising Association that businesses will spend a record £6.8 billion on seasonal advertising in the UK during the final quarter of this year – up 4.7% on last year’s record.

Argos’s ad will air to millions of viewers during ITV’s Coronation Street and Channel 4’s Gogglebox, opening with a father seeing that his daughter has circled a drum kit in the retailer’s Christmas catalogue, renamed the “Book Of Dreams”. The pair end up performing (in their minds) a stand-out performance to Simple Minds' 80s anthem Don't You (Forget About Me) – we've only got a still here but we've seem the clip and it is very good.

Asda’s two-minute ad screens for the first time during ITV’s The X Factor: Celebrity on Saturday night following a teaser due to take place during ITV weather on Friday evening and tells the story of two children who spread Christmas magic throughout a village.

Christmas Ad

Asda's Christmas ad features two children spreading Christmas cheer

The ad was filmed in Tyldesley, Wigan, where in 2016 residents dubbed the Christmas tree in their market square the worst in the country for its “dead-looking” appearance.

Advertising Association chief executive Stephen Woodford said: “Christmas is absolutely critical for retailers. A big part of that is the battle of the Christmas ad.

“The British public love the Christmas ads. It makes everybody feel good about Christmas, and as a brand you want your campaign to be one of the favourites.

In the US they have the Super Bowl, in the UK it’s the Christmas ad. It’s where the big guns come out.”

However, previous studies suggest that Christmas campaigns have little if any impact on where the vast majority of consumers do their shopping.

A survey of 11,500 consumers in 2016 by shopping comparison website revealed that just 1% said the adverts had a “big impact” on where they did their Christmas shopping, while 2% said it had “an impact”.

One in 10 said the ads had a “rare impact” on them and may have subtly influenced them once or twice, but 69% said they had no impact whatsoever.

Depressingly for the industry, 6% said they liked some of the adverts but could never remember who they were for, while 9% said they were “turned off” by the adverts and deliberately avoided the stores behind them.

Surely even the curmudgeons will make an exception for John Lewis whose ad has become as anticipated as the arrival of Santa himself. That said last year's spot featuring the life-story of Elton John polarised opinion, particularly at it emerged that the star product of the ad (the piano) wasn't available for purchase at the retailer.

Of course the effectiveness of Christmas ad campaigns isn't solely dependent on TV, with digital ads and social media playing arguably a more important role these days. When you consider that it's estimated that Gen Z spend around 3.4 hours a day on social media and just one hour a day watching television, perhaps it's no surprise that these landmark TV ads aren't having the cut-through they once had.

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