Big brands follow familiar formulas in Christmas campaigns

Mike Drysdale, general manager of Dear Storyteller, examines four festive advertisements to see which big brand takes the Christmas cracker.

This year more than ever, for businesses big and small, the Christmas ad campaign may feel like it’s make or break. What’s the theme? Nothing too new.

We have the ad that toasts Aussie families, the one that plays on the story of Santa, the show-stopping musical number, and of course the heritage story. They feel familiar, recycled, like ads we’ve all seen before. Maybe that’s by design, a way to create a sense of normalcy amidst the chaos of 2020. Most of the ads you’ll see don’t come close to mentioning COVID, almost pretending like nothing’s changed. But the one that has, might be the pick of the bunch.

Value the Australian Way – Coles

DDB has partnered with Coles to toast Aussie families in their Christmas campaign this year. A format that essentially amounts to customer flattery. There’s all of the wholesome, moments-based-storytelling you’d expect from a big brand Christmas campaign.

Despite its diverse casting choices, (a stark contrast to the mono-coloured campaigns of Christmases past) this campaign still feels like a dilution and globalisation of culture. The ad tells the story of Christmases with characters from many different backgrounds, but all through a monoculture lens of “The Australian Way”.

Part of the beauty of Christmas in Australia is the variety of ways we celebrate that are defined by the many different cultures we come from. Food is a large part of that and a Nonna using Vegemite in a secret family recipe feels reductive. Will Coles embrace the reality of a diverse Australia moving forward, or continue projecting conformity to a historical concept of Australian life?

Sharing the Spirit of Christmas – Woolworths

Woolworths have partnered with M&C Saatchi to tell a story about Santa Claus and Aussie farmers. There’s very little that feels fresh or unique about this – it’s not diverse and only once they step outside does it even really begin to feel Australian.

However, sometimes the stories we know the best – i.e. leaving milk and carrots out for Santa and his reindeer – are comforting and make fun traditions to pass onto the next generation. Woolworths’ strategy will be very much be hoping that parents use their family-friendly story to teach their children about a nostalgic Christmas tradition, inserting Woolworths into the Christmas narrative from an early age. While doing so, they’d also love the parents to affirm the belief that Woolworths continues to support local Aussie farmers.

Make It Bigger Than Christmas – Myer

Guiding another iconic Aussie brand in their Christmas campaign was Clemenger BBDO Melbourne with “Make it Bigger Than Christmas” for Myer. While the other ads have felt a little recycled and stale, Myer has had the courage to tackle COVID-19 head on. The musical extravaganza is an eclectic and vibrant affair that sets an expectation in the audience’s mind and then continually breaks it in creative and entertaining ways.

The story focuses on the events we’ve missed this year as a catalyst for making Christmas, and Christmas spending, bigger than ever. You want to watch this the whole way through, because you want to see if your experience of living through the pandemic is reflected in the lyrics of the song. Aside from being a big, fandangled piece of showmanship, the ad features genuinely clever writing and a sense of joy. As a viewer you simply don’t know what is coming next. Almost like 2020.

The home of Christmas for 182 Years – David Jones

The Monkey and Maud have taken a heritage angle for David Jones’ Christmas campaign. It’s unclear why 182 years is a significant milestone but the story essentially shows the changing face of Australia over the years through the lens of a David Jones window at Christmas time. The piece does a good job of recreating some visions of Australian Christmases past. Albeit with one very non-COVID-safe kiss on a David Jones window.

Watching the changing fashions added a nice novelty factor, but overall, nothing about the story feels vital. It feels like a nice thought exercise and an interesting perspective, but strangely, aside from a spot of diversity, the 2020 version of Christmas looked the most bland of any decade. 2020 has been a lot of things, but bland isn’t one of them. Ads where the brand is the hero rarely perform as well as the brand being a catalyst for customer heroism.

The biggest lesson I’ve taken from this year’s Christmas campaigns is that relevance and authenticity matter. A lot of brands probably fear that COVID-19 will minimise consumer spend this Christmas. But what about the alternative? How can we take what we fear and reframe it into a motivator for positive action. That’s what Myer did and in my mind the result was the best campaign by far.

Mike Drysdale is the general manager of Dear Storyteller.


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