written by
Leo Gammler
Leo Gammler

What makes a great Christmas TV spot?

What makes a great Christmas TV spot?

With German retailers expected to bring in over €100 billion in revenue during the Christmas period this year, almost 20% of total annual revenues, the Christmas period is a crucial time for brands. As a result we are now seeing the golden age of the Christmas TV spot. This article takes a look at the phenomenon, the opportunities for brands and the key elements of any successful festive TV ad campaign.

Which brands are fit for a Christmas TV spot?

Like the Super Bowl in the US, Christmas is the one time of year people actually want to watch advertising. The Christmas spot has become a form of entertainment, with people purposefully seeking them out, sharing their favourites with friends and even reviewing some as they would the latest film.

Supermarkets and department stores tend to be the big investors in high budget TV spots at this time of year: they recognise that people are more willing than normal to spend money on food and gifts to create the perfect family Christmas. Gifts and food are one thing but Christmas conjures up many emotions which a whole range of brands can use to create good storytelling campaigns: togetherness with family, kindness towards your fellow man and a comfortable home, just to name a few. So long as your product identifies with these ‘universal truths’ and you have a positive message, any brand and product can jump on the reindeer sleigh / bandwagon.  

What will a great Christmas TV spot achieve?

In his regular column for The Restless CMO, Oli Dietrich claims this month that Christmas spots often achieve only in advertising one thing, and that’s Christmas itself. But how do Christmas spots impact sales?

Figures are hard to come by, but there is an interesting case from the UK. One of the country’s largest upscale department store retailers John Lewis launches a Christmas ad each year which in international advertising circles is viewed as the spot against which all other spots are measured, with beautiful, creative execution and a moving musical soundtrack. The company rarely advertises at any other time of the year, opting instead to invest heavily in Christmas marketing of which the TV spot is a crucial part. The spots rarely show anything from their product line (although when they do they are reportedly sold out within hours) and their focus is mainly on branding. In 2016 John Lewis launched #Bustertheboxer, a charming tale which pictured the family dog learning to trampoline (the children’s Christmas gift) by watching wild animals in the garden. They reportedly spent £7 million on this campaign and according to the company saw sales rise 36 percent to £175 million in the seven days before Christmas. No-one is suggesting that every brand can replicate this success, but these figures indicate what is possible with the right creation and execution.

And of course the spot’s impact extends far beyond the short term – years of being the nation’s favourite Christmas ad will most likely have a huge impact on the company’s long term brand equity.

Good Christmas TV spots don’t just garner attention on the TV. The current trends for Christmas spots – content pieces which focus on emotions over products – are spots which gain significant traction on social media and become integrated campaigns in themselves. We now see brands like Otto launching long versions of their ads first online, accompanied by hashtag campaigns, and microsites where fans can buy merchandise and send digital postcards. Actions like this only serve to increase engagement and appeal to wider target audiences than brands would otherwise be exposed to.

What makes a good Christmas TV spot?

• Storytelling: When we think of Christmas we think of stories: the nativity, The Snowman, A Christmas Carol to name a few. A good Christmas spot is no different. Interestingly this, particularly in recent years, appears to be at the expense of the product. In Oli’s Creative Verdict this month, Oli Dietrich tells us about this year’s TK Maxx spot “the never-ending Christmas stocking” which succeeds in doing both: combining a festive story with a product focus.

• Emotions: Christmas is absolutely loaded with emotions and we all have our little personal rituals: we excitedly open the 24 doors on our advent calendar, decorate our houses, bake our Christmas cake, put up our trees. But when the expectations are heightened, so is the potential disappointment. Because we have ritualised Christmas so completely, every divergence from the “usual” – such as the absence of a loved one – is felt more strongly. A perfect time for touching stories. A good Christmas spot has to affect us emotionally and can also give us cause for contemplation.

• Charity: Christmas is the celebration of love. We give as an expression of charity, reminiscent of the gifts that the three kings brought for the baby Jesus (just in case you’ve forgotten). At Christmas time, we are more willing to give something back - Germany’s donations council estimates a quarter of all charitable giving happens in the last month of the year.  A good Christmas spot harnesses this and promotes charitable giving.

• Music: Christmas has its own sound. We immediately associate certain chords with Christmas and is quite easy to give your spot a Christmassy feel just through the right music (see how Mariah Carey did it here). A few sleigh bells here and there and you’re good to go.

• High quality production: At Christmas nothing is spared, least of all production budget. Christmas spots must look high quality, otherwise you are simply advertising the fact that you are short on money.  

• Break the rules: Expectations at Christmas are immensely high. People dream of the most perfect holiday period, not least through advertising and media. This creates enormous potential for disappointment that brands can have great fun with. Online gift portal Geschenkidee.de recognised that “no-one likes socks for Christmas” and as such designed a campaign portraying a family eating their Christmas dinner being constantly interrupted by a rude, swearing sock sitting at the table.

Are there any brands or products which should steer clear of Christmas spots?

Products that violate the much-feted spirit of Christmas (weapons, drugs) might consider avoiding the Christmas TV spot. Important to note however: At Christmas time, our tolerance for kitsch is very high, but not unlimited. The message needs to be sincere! If you go too far with the tear-jerking soppiness you’ll be getting coal in your stocking rather than presents this year.