Christmas – that time of year when the mince pies, decorations, dates and walnuts come out from their yearlong hibernation. From this slumber the ad critic supremos also rise trying to outdo peers with their immovable opinions on the latest offering of festive TV ads.

[Insert Brand} ad is here and it’s all kinds of…

[Insert Brand] has lost its sparkle, it’s too formulaic.

[Insert Brand] this year’s winner….

[Insert Brand] most engaging in social…

But how much is the public really sharing adland’s fever-pitch, gripped by every detail of the latest execution? To some extent, they might consciously YouTube or (re-)tweet them, fuelled by marquee moments such as the first airing of Coca-Cola’s or John Lewis’ much-anticipated ads.

But recent research by the7stars unearthed that 17% of people feel that Christmas only begins once the John Lewis ad has aired, while 20% said Coca-Cola’s ‘Holidays are Coming’ signalled time to unbox that tinsel and reach for the Pret Christmas sandwich. Perhaps the public isn’t as fever-pitch about them as adland is after all.

But even with this, people still don’t experience Christmas at home gorging on TV ads. So why do we always just focus on a brand’s TV ad? At the7stars we encourage everyone to ‘get out there’ to listen to consumers – ‘people’, as we call them – pop adland’s filter bubble and look around the ‘real world’ in ‘real-time’.

So in this spirit, strategy@the7stars stepped forth and went shopping like everyone else. Black Friday is really when the spending starts, and there was no brighter star in the sky to start with than that above Soho Square: Amazon’s pop-up shop, the ‘Home of Black Friday’.

The home of #blackfriday

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If its summertime ‘Prime Day’ wasn’t enough, Amazon is now wrapping its tentacles around the Black Friday behemoth with its iconic name above its pop-up and the #BlackFriday emblazoned throughout the store. The best photos from the store win prizes. But really, everyone is a winner with free merch to take home (or re-gift) laden in each of the various rooms of the house for each visitor to the Home.

Interestingly, there’s very little Amazon branding, except for the music in each room being piped through Amazon Echo speakers accompanied by someone loudly instructing Alexa to turn the music back on. A team of busy elves (independent small business makers and creators) working on their gifts assortment further demonstrated that you really can buy anything on Amazon.

  • ENGAGEMENT – 4/5…. Four Jewellers making, Three Alexa’s singing, Two FIFA playing, And a hashtag in a Christmas tree
  • BRAND CONSISTENCY – 4/5 – Brief for this was ‘What if Amazon did entire town houses’
  • LIKELIHOOD TO TELL SOMEONE ABOUT IT – 5/5 – “Get down there they’re giving away Lego!”

A few days later, we take on the big guns. The ‘Three Kings’ – John Lewis, Debenhams and M&S – have each rolled out much-debated Christmas TV ads. But we found very different in-store experiences.

Part of the reason many people remember John Lewis ads years after airing is down to how they bring them to life in-store and online. True to form, as we arrived Moz the Monster signage enticed us up to his house within the toy department.

After a short queue, we’re in, a small grotto filled with different interactive versions of the under the bed monster. The multiple photo opportunities for the family was of equal delight to a group of 30-something strategists.

The staff are brilliant with the kids and families, and for a while you forget you’re in a shop, if feels more like a tiny slice of Disneyland… until you emerge to be confronted by numerous Moz stuffed toys which don’t actually resemble Moz that much.

  • ENGAGEMENT – 4/5 – Press the ‘Do not press button’ for Moz farts, but all over too quickly
  • BRAND CONSISTENCY – 5/5 – Like we were in the ad!
  • LIKELIHOOD TO TELL SOMEONE ABOUT IT – 3/5 – Rising to 5 if you know any children

A Cinderella story

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The story couldn’t be more different for Debenhams. Did Ewan McGregor find all the Christmas budget with Cinderella’s shoe? The tale doesn’t extend to the store, we were left madly roaming the store searching for a non-existence TV ad.

It’s a shame that such a well-accomplished TV execution didn’t have a greater effect on the in store experience. A multitude of purple tinsel hanging from the ceiling lets you know that it’s Christmas, albeit one designed by an ugly sister rather than Cinders herself.

Having said this, the Cinderella story does seem to have been embraced in one way – the women’s shoe section was full of sparkly numbers fit for a soon-to-be princess. Although sadly the Cinderella reference seems to have been missed by the store staff.

  • ENGAGEMENT – 2/5 – It’s a shop, with some tinsel
  • BRAND CONSISTENCY – 1/5 – We saw the Cinderella slipper but still struggled to make a connection
  • LIKELIHOOD TO TELL SOMEONE ABOUT IT – 2/5 – Did we mention it’s a shop, with some tinsel?

Nice touch from M&S

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A reference to iconic products is something the M&S team didn’t miss. Amplifying their tie-up with Paddington bear by wonderfully branding its Marmalade with his cheeky face. In fact, Paddington was all over the store, popping up on the store windows and across all kinds of M&S branded products.

The tie-up with Paddington’s latest on-screen caper would seem a win-win for both store and film distributor as each seemed to be everywhere for a period. Time will tell if it helped shift products for M&S, or just felt like the country’s biggest film campaign.

  • ENGAGEMENT – 3/5 – Marmalade was bought
  • BRAND CONSISTENCY – 5/5 – The perfect match

The Coca-Cola truck tour

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And then there was… ‘Holidays are coming, Holidays are coming’, the roving Coca-Cola truck. Yes, ‘it’s always the real thing’ and this year it was, parked up at The O2. The king of sugared drinks may have been hit by heath claims over recent years, but ‘tis the season not for Grinchs.

The truck tour seemed emblematic of everything this time of the year should be about: loved ones. Families – young parents with new born babies, older teens who have been strongarmed along for the annual picture – patiently waited in line just to have a photo next to the truck.

For a brand that could well be emblematic of the consumerism and un-healthiness of Christmas, it seemed to be the truest embodiment of the season.

  • ENGAGEMENT – 4/5 – It’s a simple selfie opportunity, but the truck pulled in passers-by like a baby in a barn
  • BRAND CONSISTENCY – 5/5 – It’s that red Coca-Cola truck from the ads
  • LIKELIHOOD TO TELL SOMEONE ABOUT IT – 5/5 – After queuing so long for a selfie you’re telling everyone on social media #holidays

Back at the7stars bar for some Mullins mulled wine, we reflected on our extensive fieldwork, the Lego, the marmalade sandwiches, the Coke, the selfies.

Sure, Christmas shopping online is easy, but when was easy also fun, thank you Christmas retailers and brands for your bounty, and for those still reading, well done with 2017, now go forth, shop too much, eat too much and drink too much and love the ones you love.

Merry Christmas from Chris Herbert and Will Jellicoe

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