52 days is a long time. Wars have been won and lost in that time. Moustaches have been grown and novels have been written. But that’s how far in advance of Christmas Argos launched its yuletide ad this year, kicking off the festive season and gaining first-mover advantage with its rocket-powered sled effort. But is moving early all it takes to ‘win Christmas’? Or can John Lewis, former IPA Effectiveness Awards Gold winner, make it yet another champion year?

In both cases, the short answer is apparently not. M&S, with its Paddington 2 tie-in ad, is ruling the roost in the online polls despite (or perhaps because of?) a little controversy. The Telegraph Business readers are particularly unimpressed with John Lewis’ Moz the Monster effort, with it only taking 1% of their vote. MailOnline readers hand it to M&S too, with 49% of the vote vs a slightly-more-generous-than-the-Telegraph 20% for John Lewis.

What about the industry view? Despite a panel of Retail Week commentators handing the crown to John Lewis, a Twitter poll by the editor, George MacDonald, also awards the ‘winningest’ tag to M&S.

Despite buzz frequently translating into success, however, all that ultimately matters is a campaign’s effectiveness both in terms of short-term sales activation and in terms of longer-term brand health metrics – and it’ll be some time before anyone really knows who’s actually won. We’re looking forward to the IPA Effie entries, though, that’s for sure.

So, what to do if you’re an advertiser who can’t hope to compete with £20m+ Christmas ad budgets? Well, for one of our clients, for the second year running, we’ve recommended holding back from releasing their ad until it’s actually Christmassy enough – a strategy they employed last year to great effect. The lesson here is to think differently about occasion-based campaigns. Most of the retail heavyweights have gone out within a few days of each other in early November, some time before the majority of people actually start Christmas shopping.

Dominic Mills agrees. In his latest Mediatel column he says “There are, I think, three dangers here for advertisers: one, consumers are fed up/bored with their ads by the time the real sales war is on them… two, they’re drowning each other out; or three, they’ve run out of media cash and they’ll have to raid the back of the sofa for some extra. Either way, their chances of being top of mind are diminished by the time the real shopping season is on us. “

Going ahead of peak season to establish a ‘destination of choice’ position with consumers might work with gargantuan media budgets at your disposal, but for smaller players you’re simply going to be drowned out. We believe it can be much more effective to concentrate your resources when the greatest volume of your audience are in-market. And this is something that holds true all year round. A well-thought out media strategy should be the difference between an ‘ok’ and an ‘incredible’ Christmas.

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