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The Science Behind the Silly Season

by James Needham

3 min read

5 clever traits of effective xmas ads.

Grinch alert. Most Christmas ads induce reflux worse than a Boxing Day blowout. The saccharine fakery of a thousand ads all ho-ho-hoing for our attention, desperate to win our hearts and wallets.

When the last jingle bells and the food coma kicks in, I’m left to ponder what separates the turkeys from the triumphs.

Luckily, the good people at System1 have the answers, gauging viewers’ emotional response data to give every ad a star rating (1 to 5.9), as a measure to predict their potential to drive long-term brand growth.

Only 1% of ads land in the 5-star range and to rank those that gained the maximum 5.9-star rating they use a secondary measure, “Spike”, which predicts short-term sales impact.

It’s the work that works in the real world, for real people, not our industry.

The work that rises above the retail noise in the market. The work that builds long and short-term growth.

Here are five traits for your next Christmas creative strategy.

#1 Build Meaningful Memories.

Consistency pays. Brands that create character-led, fluent devices that build consistency year after year are reaping greater business rewards. In the UK, campaigns like Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot, M&S Fairy and Coke’s iconic trucks, understand how to create, reinforce and reward memory structures in meaningful ways to drive sustainable effectiveness at the most distracting time of year.

#2 Simple Stories with Quirk.

Building simple, universal storylines has helped brands like Australia Post and Amazon create salience and sales. But to stand out, there needs to be something that transcends the tropes we’ve come to expect. Find something distinctive that creates cut-through, like shining a fresh light on a stereotyped age group like Amazon has this year.

#3 Integrate product naturally or not at all.

Christmas ads must appeal to the emotional right brain through things like story, characters, and music, but effective brands also find ways to introduce their product or service in ways that organically serve the story (and the bottom line). Telstra has dialled in its network well this year and John Lewis has done this remarkably well for years by seamlessly connecting emotional stories, products and comms all the way through to the in-store experience.

#4 Zag the schmaltz – choose an anti-strategy.

Some of the best Christmas campaigns have zagged the warm and fuzzies to carve out a new niche – The Christmas Anti strategy. Topping the list is my personal favourite Christmas ad of all time, the classic Harvey Nichols “Sorry I spent it on myself” which also gets a nod to genius product integration by selling its joke stingy presents in-store and online. Finding a fresh angle on an old tradition can work magic when delivered with insight and impact.

#5 Selfish Altruism – One for me, some for you.

Finding a charity or worthy cause that gives back can lend gravitas and meaning to a Christmas campaign.
Disney’s partnership with Make-A-Wish spans more than 40 years, helping to grant more than 150,000 wishes globally. Charitable relationships have commercial benefits too. Research shows that 88% of consumers say they are more likely to buy from a company that supports and engages in activities to improve society.

So, there you have it.

Hopefully, the only Turkey you see this year is sitting plumply on your Christmas lunch plate.

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James Needham

→ Over 20 years experience across APAC and the UK helping redefine some of the world’s most iconic and effective brands, and leading complex research and segmentation projects from Budget Direct, Big4, Crime Stoppers, RACV and CommBank.

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