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Woman's hands bearing holiday present symbolizing giving: holiday TV ads

The New Super Bowl? Holiday TV Ads Get Bigger

December 26th, 2017   ||    by Todd Wasserman   ||    No Comments

There are not many areas in which England still outdoes the U.S., but holiday TV ads in the U.K. are second to none. In recent years, holiday advertising from the U.K.’s Heathrow Airport and department store John Lewis has become must-see TV for American audiences too.

John Lewis’s 2017 Christmas TV ad already has more than 9 million views on YouTube, despite being released in early November. (The department store even sprang for a cover of The Beatles song “Carry That Weight.”) And Heathrow Airport’s 2017 Christmas ad has gathered around 600,000 views since mid-November. Both ads were over-the-top holiday TV productions featuring endearing characters.

In the U.K., Christmas is sort of like the Super Bowl for TV ads. In the U.S., not so much. But amid the sea of Black Friday and holiday sale ads, there were a few U.S. holiday TV spots also worth a mention.

The Trend Toward Spectacles

As a 2015 report in the Financial Times pointed out, holiday TV ads in the 1980s were often focused on sales too. But a shift in strategy—brands aiming to create trust rather than spark one-off sales—is now fueling ads meant to foster an emotional connection.

Another big factor is social media. Ads like John Lewis’ can magnify their impact by creating a buzz on YouTube. In this case, the TV ad is designed to stimulate social media conversation. That’s often a more potent marketing technique since consumers might be more apt to check out an ad if a friend endorses it.

Another trend driving more elaborate holiday ads is that advertisers are no longer constrained to get their messages across in 30 or 60 seconds. Ever since BMW launched its BMW Films in 2001—eight short films featuring A-list directors and stars—brands have been experimenting with longer-format stories.

The other impetus for Christmas season ad spectacles is a broader trend—product parity. “Most products are commodities anyway,” said Hayes Roth, principal of HA Roth Consulting. “Whatever your feature of the moment, it will be copied by someone else, so it gets back to brand experience.”

The New Super Bowl?

Whatever the reason, more brands have jumped on the bandwagon this year. Among the emotion-driven ads to appear recently are Samsung’s “Giving is a Gift to Be Shared,” which features a doorman who goes the extra mile—and gets a reward at Christmas.

Macy’s “Lighthouse” ad features a young boy who makes a holiday connection with a young girl who lives in a lighthouse.

HP’s “Create Wonder in Your World” ad follows the story of neighbors who give a young girl a holiday surprise.

The cinematic feel and the lack of overtly commercial messages inevitably draw comparisons to Super Bowl ads. The difference is that holiday ads are spread out over a month or so instead of being dropped in a single night.

A cynic might say that brands are taking advantage of consumers’ warm-and-fuzzy feelings during the holidays to create an emotional connection. A realist, however, might note that these ads are also holiday presents in and of themselves—offering a smile and conveying an upbeat message, along with a product pitch.

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