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Christmas adverts: Marketing techniques you can learn from

Burberry, Harrods; Competition for best seasonal advert is kicking off. We look at the marketing strategies you can use for your Christmas advertising

The evolution of Christmas advertising

UK advertisers will spend an estimated £5.6bn on marketing in the run-up to Christmas – £300m more than in 2015 and the most ever spent in the Christmas period – according to new statistics from the Advertising Association/Warc.

While concerns around the Brexit result could have put a dampener on advertising budgets, on the face of it the opposite seems to be the case with brands and retailers all keen to maximise their Christmas marketing spend, investing huge sums of money into running Christmas campaigns on TV and online; figures show almost £2.7bn of that £5.6bn figure will be spent on digital advertising.

This week Burberry, Harrods, TK Maxx and muscled into the Christmas advertising arena for 2016 launching their festive campaigns, while the highly anticipated iconic John Lewis Christmas advert, which in past years has featured covers of songs made famous by Oasis (covered by Aurora), John Lennon (covered by Tom Odell), and Keane (covered by Lily Allen) is set to air tomorrow. And on November 14, we'll see Sainsbury's launch it's follow-on ad to Mog the Cat's calamitous Christmas.

Evidently, Christmas advertising is BIG business and there's no reason why start-ups and small businesses can't take advantage of the marketing techniques being used by these big brands to create successful Christmas campaigns…

Advertising lessons from the 2016 Christmas adverts

Tell a story

This week, Burberry launched its ‘The Tale of Thomas Burberry' advert – a considerable change of tone from its previous adverts with Romeo Beckham. Formatted much like a glossy trailer for a film, the A-list ad takes you through the 160-year history of the Burberry brand and its creator Thomas Burberry by re-imagining key events.

Christopher Bailey, chief executive and creative executive of Burberry, has said the film offers “a brief glimpse inspired by [Thomas Burberry's] full and extraordinary life, which threaded its way through the history of the 20th century in all its tumultuous highs and lows”.

Thomas Burberry

Domhnall Gleeson as Thomas Burberry in ‘The Tale of Thomas Burberry' ad

Having already received critical acclaim, the Burberry ad demonstrates the power of story-telling in business. You need your customers to buy in to your brand and what better way to do this then to share the human-face of your business.

So how can you use storytelling to market your brand? Marketing agency Social Chain is a great example of a start-up using storytelling to succeed. Its co-founder Steven Bartlett recently started publishing personal vlogs which show the inner workings of the business, him interacting with team members, and sheds a light on some of the more ‘real' aspects of running a business – always having to be on the move, working unsociable hours and so on. A vlog Bartlett published just yesterday on Facebook has already garnered over 44,000 views so consider a similar approach with your marketing on social media in the run-up to Christmas.

Take behind-the-scene videos, share stories from your team, make sure your ‘about us' features ‘your story'; do your best to build a better picture about ‘who' your business is to help consumers connect on a personal level. More advice like this can be found here.

Embrace digital and make the most of offline opportunities

On Thursday 10 November, the much-awaited John Lewis 2016 Christmas advert aired.

Featuring Buster the boxer dog, the ad features a dad putting up a trampoline on Christmas Eve to surprise his daughter Bridget with when she wakes on Christmas day. However, after putting it up and going back indoors, a number of wildlife – featuring foxes, squirrels and a badger – discover the trampoline and take to it, jumping around to a Randy Crawford cover of ‘One Day I'll Fly Away' – while agitated Buster watches on from inside the house.

Once morning arrives, Bridget excitedly runs out to to enjoy her trampoline gift but Buster gets there first and frantically jumps up and down; much to the family's amazement.

Buster the Boxer

John Lewis' ‘Buster the Boxer' ad

While the advert uses clever animation of the foxes and wildife, has a fantastic soundtrack, and connects to our love of animals, the real win for John Lewis here is what they've been doing to promote the ad off-screen.

For the first time ever, the retailer is making use of virtual reality (VR) by allowing visitors to its Oxford Street store to wear the Oculus Rift VR headset and conduct the animals bouncing by a wave of the arm. For owners of Google Cardboard, you can access the same experience on the John Lewis website.

What's more, the retailer has created a seperate web page to showcase the ad, promote its store outlets and encourage viewers to purchase their own cuddly toy version of Buster.

If you're looking to create an ad for your business and market to your consumers effectively, you should take a leaf out of John Lewis' book – look at what you can do with technology to engage viewers outside of your advert, and look at ways to maximise sales with related products, offers etc.

Consider your audience, carefully

Harrods launched its ‘A Very British Fairytale' advertising campaign this week; telling the story – through narration – of a bear called Hugh who ‘saves Christmas' by enlisting the help of Father Christmas and his reindeer to stop a naughty elf.

A simplistic tale, and rather childlike, the Harrods advert has already been dubbed ‘the pits' and ‘pretty poor' by some critics but the fairytale focus of the story will likely appeal to young children – and so too their parents – and the promotion of it as ‘Very British' ties in nicely with recent events (ahem, Brexit).


hugh christmas bear

Harrods advert with Hugh the Christmas bear in a ‘Very British Fairytale'

Harrods has considered its audience targeting carefully with this ad and you should take the same approach with your marketing efforts. Get comprehensive advice on tailoring your marketing and targeting your audience here.

Don't be afraid to stand-out

tk maxx

TK Maxx's Christmas ‘Sing-Song' advert

Breaking with Christmas traditions of cutesy, glitzy ads, TK Maxx has taken an entirely unique marketing approach with its 2016 advert. Based around a Christmas ‘sing-song', but like none you've ever seen, the ad features a family at Christmas singing a capella versions of Misirsirlou and the Black Eyed Peas song ‘Pump It'.

Former Just Eat CMO, Mat Braddy recently discussed the need for businesses to move away from “boring, safe” ads in a blog for and the TK Maxx advert is the antithesis of boring and safe. Creative, wacky – some may say weird – and memorable, TK Maxx's ad evidences the need for you to think outside of the box when promoting your start-up.

Don't just follow the same approach to your competitors; think creatively – but perhaps without the gurgling Grandma!

It's worth noting that even if you're a fairly early-stage business, you might still be able to afford and succeed with a TV advertising campaign. We recently published this step-by-step guide to creating a TV ad campaign on a budget to help show you how.

One final word on Christmas advertising

Another tip for your Christmas marketing – don't leave it too late! Harrods and Burberry have launched their ads some seven weeks before the big day in order to generate more revenue. If you're a retail business, Christmas marketing should be at the top of your agenda.


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