Is your brand on the naughty list this year?

Natasha Morrison

29 November 2018

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It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas marketing is actually really boring. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Grinch, I love the festive season as much as the next person. I’m just tired of the lack of creativity involved in the vast majority of advertising that come out around Christmas time.

Over the past few years, it has become a predictable theatre as each major brand brings out their Christmas ads. For a while, it worked. People really cared when the ads were released and great public debate followed about which brand had won favour that year. But now there’s a declining sense of enthusiasm as we watch the same narratives play out over and over again.

When putting together a “good” Christmas ad, there are generally only two schools of thought:

  • Strategy number one: Construct a heartbreakingly sweet story full of adorable small children and tear-jerking moments, plucking at the heart strings of viewers everywhere and reminding us what Christmas is really be about, with very little relation to the product which is actually being sold. Bonus points awarded for personifying Christmas-related animals or objects, plinky plonky piano covers of old pop songs and finding the one “perfect gift”.
  • Strategy number two: Unashamedly plugging your Christmas deals with upbeat music to make your audience feel like it’s actually all very exciting, distracting you from the true horrors of trying to shop during the Christmas season. Bonus points awarded for big red prices, excessive use of slow motion and lots and lots of glitter.

These descriptions may also lead you to believe that TV is the true offender here, but that is simply not the case. In fact, while these ads often begin their lives on television, digital is a vitally important channel in ensuring their success because what they really rely on is word of mouth. Ensuring the availability of these adverts online means that they can be watched on-demand, shared between friends and can generate huge volumes of organic conversation.

For example, British supermarket chain Iceland recently caused controversy by releasing their Christmas advert, which had been ‘banned from TV’, exclusively online. The result? 5.3 million YouTube views in the space of a week and an uproar of support leading to more than 670,000 signatures on an online petition to remove the ban on the advert. If anyone is wondering, the advert falls firmly into category one.

Clearly there’s still power in this kind of advertising. But if we continue to rely on the same cliches time and time again, then what does the future hold? How much longer can we expect the same strategies to yield the same results?

Perhaps it’s a risk to buck the trend but at Good Rebels, we are big believers in taking risks. So let’s take a moment to give credit to the brands who aren’t afraid to think outside the box this festive season.

Saving America with Cards against Humanity

Well known for their bizarre stunts are NSFW game designers Cards Against Humanity. Previous endeavours include a crowdfunding campaign to dig a hole in the middle of nowhere and a Black Friday tradition of asking people to pay them money for absolutely nothing in return.

Last Christmas they returned to ‘save America’ by purchasing a plot of land on the US-Mexico border and employing a team of lawyers to make it as difficult as possible for president Donald Trump to build a wall dividing the two countries. They also offered fans the opportunity to pay $15 for a few special ‘holiday surprises’ as well as more information on their plan.

It’s exactly these kinds of antics that have reinforced the eccentric comedic nature of the brand, earning them a devoted and outspoken fan base who are literally willing to pay them money for nothing in return.

More conversation = better prices with Lidl

Another Supermarket chain, Lidl, went with an alternative approach with one of their recent Christmas ads, offering discounts on some of their best loved products which varied based on the levels of conversation around the products online. The more people talked about the brand and relevant products? The cheaper they became to purchase in-store.

It’s not difficult to see how this would benefit Lidl; acknowledging the added value of people talking about their brand and their products online while also offering a bargain to value-focused shoppers at an expensive time of year. Not to mention, this kind of advert is notably less expensive to produce than the traditional output from their competitors.

Cosying up with Nick Offerman and Diageo

Lastly we have a curious example from major global drinks manufacturer Diageo. Diageo are responsible for a wide range of alcoholic spirit brands including Smirnoff Vodka, Gordon’s Gin, Baileys and Johnnie Walker Whisky. They also own a range of Scottish single malt whiskies, which make for popular gifts around Christmas time.

They recently partnered with actor and well known Whisky fan Nick Offerman to create an original content series on YouTube entitled ‘My Tales of Whisky. To celebrate the Christmas season, they released a video on the channel featuring Mr Offerman sitting in front of a fireplace drinking a Lagavulin single malt for 45 minutes. The video has been watched in its entirety more than 3.4 million times.

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What is it I’m trying to say?

Obviously these are not examples of traditional holiday marketing, which typically uses a scattergun approach to reach as many people as possible with a widely relatable but all too predictable message. Instead, they are smart digital campaigns that focus on a targeted audience with carefully crafted, if at times ridiculous, content.

I’m not asking you to abandon the spirit of Christmas, I’m asking you to consider how you can set yourself apart from the crowd and get your message through to an audience that is already completely oversaturated and therefore desensitised to conventional Christmas marketing. Maybe, just maybe, creativity is the best gift you can give your customers this Christmas.