Anyone missing Christmas? I thought I’d revisit it in search of a happy place to counter the banning of everything nice. So, Christmas advertising then, as a former Marketing Manager, I have a natural curiosity about ads and I currently live in America. Something struck me over the festive period to in relation to these 2 things:  No American brand seems to do the  John Lewis type of thing at Christmas.

For years now Christmas advertising in the UK seems to be about what JL does and how others try to emulate. This year,  according to my Facebook feed, that got shook up by Iceland and their cartoon about monkeys and palm oil. In common with the John Lewis genre though, this was miles away from anything formulaic.

*As an aside, Iceland is a retailer of processed, frozen foods; sold in chest freezers under harsh strip lighting. I reckon they definitely won the Waitrose shopper who was boycotting palm oil this festive season. 

John Lewis’s 2019 offering was as lovely and heart grabbing as ever.  I cried, of course.  My point is not about who did better but that UK Christmas advertising is “a thing”. It’s entertainment. It’s for your heart, your soul, no purchase necessary.

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American Christmas advertising, on the contrary, seemed to me to be just like ALL American advertising, right up in your face. The ads basically continue tell you to buy stuff. It’s not in anyway subliminal. It’s  simple. The need is set up, the brand answers that need and you are told to buy or die.  (Or buy and die because of the list of side effects they seem to be legally required to tell you about).

Back when I was a Brand Manager in the UK ad making in general came with mystique. OK, usually whatever CEO was in place would have an approach to things much like Alan Sugar in The Apprentice.  The ad agency, however,  would not and that fight dear Brand Manager would be yours to manage. I wondered sometimes if the agencies failed to tell anyone creative that the ad being made was for an everyday consumer product.  Instead that it was an arty short film using a dairy item as a (barely visible) metaphor for world peace.

At Christmas, certainly in places like John Lewis and Iceland, the victory is the agency’s and I don’t think the fight would’ve gone many rounds.

But looking at American Christmas ads, something different is going on. Here are some of the ads I recall being exposed to over the Christmas period here in Ohio (this isn’t exhaustive – but I’d say it was a representative cross section):

  1. RAM Trucks: Growly male voiceover saying manly things while a massive truck with a sheep horn logo piled over rough terrain. I think the end line was basically – YOU WANT THIS BIG MASSIVE MANLY TRUCK (or youz a pussay). *As an aside – Christmas though?
  2. GENESIS diamonds:  A man talking about how important it was to get the perfect gift for their wife. Key line: “We’ve got all the stuff women like”.  *All of it you say? But I wanted a bike and some Clarins stuff and you only sell diamonds (sad face).
  3. PIE FACE GAME toy ad:  My kid wanted it. The ad told him he did. *He would’ve anyway
  4. GEICO insurance – blatantly reminding me what could go wrong and filling me with a fear of it I never had before. *In a really funny way though and totally dissing the nearest competitor at the same time.  **Christmas though?

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I am curious as to why hearty Christmas ads are not “a thing” in America. Apparently emotional advertising does happen, usually involving puppies. It just doesn’t seem to be big at Christmas. * A dog is for life they say.

Maybe America has just been through that phase. Maybe it’s because big budget spenders are waiting for the Super Bowl?  Maybe the shopping happens anyway?

I guess none of this matter’s as long as the women got all the stuff they like, the men got their big trucks (*Insured by Geico) and a pie in the face from little Johnny.

Maybe Elton John even got a new piano.

Happy New Year!