Opinion

The results are in: Which Aussie ad campaign won Christmas 2017?

From LEGO to Target to Officeworks, 11 of Australia's biggest Christmas campaigns have been put to the ultimate test: the consumer. Phil Toppi, managing director at Sensecheck, reveals the results in this guest post.

Christmas is the most exciting time of the year in the advertising world – it’s the season where the general public actually look forward to seeing commercials, with the level of buzz and excitement around them seemingly kicking up another gear each year.

While Australian Christmas ads aren’t generally as lavish or expensive as the likes of John Lewis, M&S and Sainsbury’s in the UK, local brands appear to be taking note of overseas trends, and are placing greater emphasis on building emotional appeal and engaging viewers through storytelling. After Cadbury took home the turkey in 2016, we again used the Sensecheck platform to test and analyse the performance of 11 locally-aired ads.

Brand Ad Name Sensecheck

Rating

1 Arnott’s Santa’s big night 63
2 LEGO Build it together 60
3 Woolworths Share the spirit of Christmas 59
4 Target Who makes Christmas special 58
5 Amazon Give a little bit 57
6 David Jones Now it feels like Christmas 52
7 Coles What we love about Christmas 51
8 Bonds Light it up this Christmas 50
9 Officeworks There’s more in every gift 47
10 Myer Elf’s journey 46
11 ALDI The more the merrier 34

#1: Arnott’s – ‘Santa’s big night’

Arnott’s launched their first-ever Christmas campaign with a bang, taking out top spot as the most effective Christmas ad of 2017. The narrative took viewers on an emotionally-involving journey which depicted the trials and tribulations facing Santa on Christmas eve. “Santa’s big night” made people feel warm and fuzzy inside, while the playful way it was brought to life was highly amusing (78%):

“Brought back memories of being a child & the excitement of Christmas… it put a smile on my face”

With the brand having a relevant and credible role in the narrative (playing on the ritual of children leaving milk and a biscuit out for Santa), the connection back to Arnott’s was strong (59%):

“It taps into the Christmas spirit, and integrates itself into a well-known and loved Christmas tradition”

#2: LEGO – ‘Build it together’

LEGO told a clever story about Santa and his elves preparing for Christmas, before their plans are thrown into disarray when a child’s foot flings Santa far away. It takes a little ingenuity and some LEGO for Santa to eventually make his way back to the village to save Christmas:

“Interesting and realistic storyline. Let’s face it every Lego set gets stepped on and pushed under the couch. Showed off how creative Lego is as a toy”

With the creative execution almost exclusively brought to life using LEGO, “Build it together” was the most unique and distinctive ad tested, and it came as no surprise that it was unmistakably an ad for LEGO (74%, #1):

“That every aspect involves Lego figures and pieces, leaving Lego front of mind at all times”

#3: Woolworths – ‘Share the spirit of Christmas’

After a poor creative ranking in 2016, Woolworths rebounded strongly this year. In what seems to be a trend amongst a growing number of advertisers, “Share the spirit” depicted Australian’s celebrating Christmas in a diverse, inclusive and multi-cultural way. This helped it come across as highly genuine (64%, #3) and relatable (62%, #1), while overall it was a feel-good ad which generated high levels of likability (71%, #2):

“That it showed all cultures sharing and celebrating together”

Importantly, Woolworths continue to maintain a highly consistent style and approach throughout all their communications. These themes and ideas are starting to bed into viewers’ minds and intrinsically link to the brand, resulting in rapid brand recognition (65%, #3):

“It’s consistent with most of their ads, you do get the feel it is for Woolworths, but you don’t know until it’s finished”

#4: Target – ‘Who makes Christmas special’

Target provided a light-hearted look at all the fun and mischief that families get up to during the holiday period. It paired this with a high-tempo version of Bob Dylan’s iconic “Must be Santa” jingle, which brought a great level of energy and excitement. “Who makes Christmas special” shows how powerful music can be as a mechanism for creating emotional engagement, having the ability to single-handedly alter almost every aspect of an ad’s performance:

“The catchy music, happiness & I could relate to the advert. It got me excited for Christmas”

However, with 55% (#1) of people having seen the ad before and the theme and music continuing to run through the brand’s retail spots, the novelty has started to wear off. Nearly double the expected number of people described it as annoying & irritating (15%), with this negativity only likely to build in the weeks leading up to Christmas:

“The song gets very irritating after a few viewings!”

#5: Amazon – ‘Give a little bit’

With the e-commerce giant launching in Australia this week, Amazon’s holiday spot leveraged the brand’s iconic smiling logo and boxes, along with the classic “Give a little bit” soundtrack. While not overtly screaming “Christmas”, it was a fun, cute and creatively engaging piece, sitting behind LEGO only as the most unique & distinctive concept tested (51%):

“The talking packages were very unique. It made it seem Amazon has a personal touch to gift giving”

In perhaps an ominous sign for Australian retailers, with little reference to Amazon other than prominently displaying the brand’s trademark ‘smile’, the ad was a strong fit (73%) and it created impressions which were unique to the brand (60%):

“Use of the Amazon logo on packages made me realise it’s an Amazon ad all the way through”

#6: David Jones – ‘Now it feels like Christmas’

Consistent with previous research showing the power of animation at Christmas-time, viewers connected emotionally with David Jones’ heart-warming story of a little gingerbread man shopping for loved ones back home:

“Sweet and reminds us of family and what is really important of the holidays”

However, with only 40% of viewers able to connect it back to David Jones, the ad’s ability to positively impact the brand is limited. It also has the potential to do just as much for its biggest competitor, Myer, given Christmas window displays aren’t a tradition owned exclusively by David Jones Australia-wide:

“Didn’t really see much that it was for David Jones. I assume all the gifts he was buying were from David Jones but not sure”

#7: Coles – ‘What we love about Christmas’

Without reaching any real emotional high, the family and festive mood of “What we love about Christmas” created a level of warmth and relatability for viewers:

“Lovely real people. It seemed personal like a real Christmas. Not cheesy but warm”

Underpinning the ad’s performance was the tried and tested creative formula for Coles, which resulted in a strong connection to the brand (72%, placing it behind LEGO only):

“Clear theme and clear identification with Coles”

#8: Bonds – ‘Light it up this Christmas’

Bonds took a more modern and youthful approach to its Christmas spot, featuring scantily-clad dancers and using a recently-released track by French DJ Martin Solveig. While the up-beat and high-energy spot drove above-average likeability (60%), it was also described as annoying & irritating by almost a quarter of viewers. A lack of relatable characters meant the ad didn’t promote a sense of inclusivity and togetherness, subsequently failing to get people into the festive spirit:

“All of the models were tiny, doesn’t show if Bonds cater for plus size girls”

#9: Officeworks – ‘There’s more in every gift’

Officeworks’ spot from 2016 was a highlight, with the adorable story of a grandfather and his granddaughter aligning perfectly with people’s heightened feelings of warmth and nostalgia during the festive period. Officeworks decided to change tack in 2017, attempting to connect with viewers on a deeper level. “There’s more in every gift” encouraged viewers to think about the meaning behind a gift and to explore the possibilities it could offer the recipient. While it feels like the strategy has legs, the complexity of the idea combined with a lack of emotional engagement, meant that it struggled to connect with viewers:

“Not clear what it is about for most of it”

#10: Myer – ‘Elf’s journey’

Myer’s latest instalment of Elf, Reindeer, Moose and Angel, came on the back of its top 3 ranking in 2016. However – strangely – Myer chose to depart from the typically fun and jovial adventures of the quartet, deciding instead to be the Grinch of 2017. It took aim at some of the most loved kid’s activities at Christmas – including overdone lighting displays and pre-school decorations – and poked fun at them.

While the strategy of tapping into unique emotions can help a brand to stand out from the crowd at Christmas, whatever journey you decide to take viewers on, you ultimately need to leave them on an emotional high. The eventual resolve for “Elf’s journey” isn’t strong enough to overcome viewers’ feelings of sadness and disappointment, subsequently leaving the ad feeling cold and lacking festive spirit:

“It seems to be very against how anyone else might celebrate Christmas”

#11: Aldi – ‘The more the merrier’

For the second year running, Aldi had the least effective Christmas ad tested, with this year’s spot considerably weaker than “Meet the Tinkletons” in 2016. In the spirit of full disclosure, “The more the merrier” was, like last year, my personal favourite. And I could honestly watch it on loop for hours on end and it’d still bring a smile to my face each and every time.

However, while Aldi may continue to win the plaudits of the creative community, the people they are trying to influence will be the ultimate judge of their success.

Mark Ritson put it perfectly when he said: “I prefer to take it further with clients and point out that they are, quite literally, the least qualified people on the planet to see their product or service the way that their consumers do.”

Less than half of viewers (47%) were able to understand the ad and what it was trying to tell them, while only 22% connected it back to Aldi in a meaningful way. If viewers have to exert any mental energy trying to figure out what’s going on in an ad and/or what the message it’s trying to communicate is, then – quite simply – they won’t:

“It was way too long in length, and took too long to get to the point. I probably would have looked away or flicked to another channel if it was on TV before I even found out it was an ad for ALDI. Doesn’t promote their brand or food?”

Performance was considerably weaker amongst females (Sensecheck Rating of 27 versus 42 for males), which suggests that the decision to use a cricket theme and to play on gender stereotypes may not have been the right one, given females are predominantly the chief grocery buyer.

With the hype around Christmas ads starting to reach Super Bowl-like proportions, it can sometimes be forgotten that their job is to ultimately help brands sell more stuff.

The results from 2017 testing once again highlight how important it is that advertisers speak to their customers (and potential customers) throughout the creative development process. Doing so will help to fast-track a winning concept, while it can also help to change course on one that generates a weak emotional response, where the intended humour doesn’t quite hit the mark, or where the ad does a poor job of connecting to the brand in a meaningful way.

Phil Toppi is the managing director at advertising measurement agency Sensecheck.

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