Five Christmas branding myths debunked by Third Floor. You’re welcome.

19 December 2019

Five Christmas branding myths debunked by Third Floor. You’re welcome.

It’s the season of goodwill so it’s only right that Third Floor plays its part. Here are our top five snippets.

It’s the season of goodwill so it’s only right that Third Floor plays its part. Here are our top five snippets of Christmas fiction, festively adorned in fact. 

1. “I bet John Lewis sacked its agency over – insert year’s – Christmas ad.”

If we had a chocolate coin for the number of times we’ve heard this one. 2015’s Man on the Moon in particular divided opinion like Marmite and never the phrase “I bet they sacked their…” was used more freely. It’s true that there can be quite a distinct contrast in style from one year to the next – an arsonist dragon wrecking merry havoc is quite a departure from a piano-playing Elton John reminiscing about his childhood. But the truth is, John Lewis has stuck with the same communications agency, London-based adam&eveDDB, since its very first ad, which incidentally pre-dates 2007 but Wikipedia’s not quite sure beyond that. Any change in style from one year to the next is down to a rotation of directors with their own individual style. Michel Gondry and Dougal Wilson in particular are worth noting. Wilson gave us the lovable characters – Monty the Penguin, Moz the Monster and this year’s Excitable Edgar. Gondry, who’s incidentally huge in Hollywood, brought us Buster the Boxer. The award-winning Boy and the Piano was someone different altogether, Seb Edwards. John Lewis obviously believe adam&eveDDB is doing a cracking job, and we don’t disagree.

2. “Brands have to spend a fortune on Christmas TV ads.”

Okay, we’ll compromise on this. It’s almost wrong. What’s undeniably true is that the battle of the brands intensifies each year, and big brands spend money. This year’s 2 minutes 30 seconds John Lewis Christmas ad reportedly cost £7m to make. Consider that they’ve been producing high-end ads for over a decade and yes, you could certainly say they have spent a small fortune. But it’s an aggressive arena and any brand heavyweight will of course pour a similar sum into a rival campaign. But drawing attention to your brand doesn’t have to cost a fortune. In fact, one tiny brand has blown the big players out of the water this year. Haford Hardware, a tiny, family-run store in Wales produced a TV campaign that cost no more than £100. The payback on that has been millions of pounds worth of press coverage.

3. “Retail ads are too random, they should focus on the products.”

Wrong. Let’s take a non-seasonal example. Let’s take fast food outlets. We’re all almost jovially wise to the fact that real-life McDonald’s looks nothing like it does in the adverts. Perhaps that’s why one of the arguably most astute brands has taken a departure from product-focused advertising and in a move towards brand storytelling, with generational divides being broken down over a shared love of high nonsense, low nutrition nosh. KFC, on the other hand, is still going strong with the product visuals. (Perhaps it needs to catch up, but that’s another conversation.) So bearing in mind that we have a good level of acceptance for fiction, there’s never a better time than Christmas for brands to defy convention and follow a flight of fancy into pure fiction. The purpose? To evoke emotion. Fragrance adverts are rife at this time of year. They primarily sell a scene rather than a scent. Whether it’s romance (Chanel’s Chance) or empowerment (Dior’s J’adore) it’s all intended to make us believe in magic. The scent’s secondary.

To return to Christmas, from a fire breathing dragon to an all singing, all dancing carrot – and Aldi arguably does sell carrots, albeit static ones – many of the big brands leave products behind when it comes to TV campaigns. They’d rather evoke an emotional response than showcase their product range. One exception this year is Tesco. While it’s pushing hard to promote a diversification into fast fashion, this year’s seasonal ad has kept it simple with a time travelling Tesco delivery driver dropping off… food. That’s it. Tesco’s most famous for selling food, so what else could its customers dream of? In our view, Tesco’s kept it quite real and it’s done it reasonably well.

Ikea, on the other hand, has got it very wrong by straddling both, badly. They’re promoting products readily available in store with a focus on quashing negative emotion. Namely, the shame of having no serving space on the Christmas table. The shame of having a crack in the wallpaper. Wanting the world to swallow you up. Who wants to empathise with that at Christmas, regardless of a how a cost-effective serving stand or a wall hanging might cover the embarrassment. So, product or no product, Christmas ads are more about what you do with them than what side of the fence you choose to fall on.

4. “Our beloved red and white Father Christmas is CocaCola’s invention.”

Children believe in Father Christmas. Adults believe he’s CocaCola’s invention. The red and white wardrobe matches CocaCola’s brand palette, they cry. Well, here’s the bombshell: this is absolute tosh. In fact, the red and white Father Christmas might have started life as a darkly clad, foreboding figure but the red and white Father Christmas we know was around long before CocaCola adopted him. In 1931, the global giant commissioned an artist, Hadon Sunblom, to develop advertising images featuring Santa Claus. For inspiration, Sunblom turned to Clement Clark Moore's 1822 poem, ‘A Visit From St Nicholas’, which described Santa as the jolly plump fellow we all know and love. Sunblom used CocaCola’s colour pallet, but this was nothing new. As journalist Mark Forsyth reported in The Guardian newspaper in 2016 (and let’s be clear, this topic is newsworthy), Santa had been portrayed almost exclusively in red from the early 19th century and most of his modern image was put together by cartoonist Thomas Nast in the 1870s. Even if you were to confine your search to Santa in American soft drinks adverts, you would find a thoroughly modern Santa Claus in the posters for White Rock that came out in 1923. Try as they might (and I’d urge you to check out their version of events), even CocaCola can’t spin this one!

5. “A talking carrot was a good call for Aldi.”

Not everyone agrees. It might be a good talking point around the office coffee machine, but Aldi’s all-singing, all-dancing carrot with the voice of Robbie Williams really upset the Advertising Standards Agency. Why? Apparently they took umbrage with adult themes, namely said carrot’s attitude to alcohol. A character that resonates so strongly with children should not be partial to a Christmas tipple, they said. But it’s not stopped Aldi from supposedly ‘winning’ Christmas ad wars, if you’re to believe such polls. Perhaps it’s time we all learned to lighten up a little. Incidentally, Aldi does stock light bulbs.