Commentary

A Non-Tradition of Shareable U.S. Christmas Ads

It’s 71 degrees where I live and it ought to be 46, an maybe that’s why I don’t have the holiday spirit, or maybe it’s just that nothing has moved me.

Marketers are trying, all over the world but especially in London.

As it has for the last several years  competition to make British shoppers cry is in full force,  Every year,  the John Lewis department store  and Sainsbury’s supermarket chain unveil Christmas themed commercials that make Brits go “awwww” or whatever is the British equivalent. This year the German supermarket chain EDEKA also produced a long form holiday ad that is overwrought with emotion.

There are probably many more but these are ones causing buzz at Unruly, the ad tech firm that follows, marks and predicts video sharing trends and assists in creating them. 

Probably few of these ads would exist if sharing ads online didn’t exist--a .30 second spot in the middle of a "Big Bang Theory" rerun just doesn’t work.

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And this year, some of the top commercials are not exactly filled with holiday cheer.  Two out of three of the most prominent ones  feature old lonely men that seem, well, pitiable.

Let’s explore that theme a bit The EDEKA ad ---the story of an old man whose children are all too busy to see him over the holidays-- is  brutally manipulative. You’ll probably cry; I won’t tell you more than that, but Unruly’s David Waterhouse says the 1:45 message  has come out of nowhere and gained 2.3 million shares in just one week.

That sad man is matched by the John Lewis ad, titled “The Man on the Moon,” a 2:10 spot about a lonely, withered man, on the moon, who is spotted with a telescope by a little girl, who magically finds a way to send him a gift, a telescope too. 

He sheds a tear as he waves down to her.  The store has made an app, and  is selling a series “Man on the Moon” products.  The promotion is done in conjunction with Age UK, a charity for the elderly, to remind viewers to befriend some of the million elderly people who go a month without speaking to anyone.

In this country, the sad man story comes from Toys “R” Us. Little girls in the cul de sac notice the sad old man who lives near them. They surprise him by secretly  erecting and lighting a Christmas tree in his front yard. He seems angry--you know, he’s an old man--but at the end realizes he’s in a Toys “R” Us commercial. 

It’s not in the league of  the others I’ve mentioned but thematically--you know, three is a trend--it’s necessary to mention.

The cleverest of them all--a little sad, mostly funny--is Sainsbury’s, about Mog, the cat, who has a bad Christmas morning and almost burns down the home where she lives, but ends up being lauded for saving the family. Author Judith Kerr wrote Mog’s Christmas Calamity to go along with the 3.30 spot. 

As an example of how attentively British shoppers consider this Christmas ad competition, at least one newspaper maintains a readers’ poll. That paper seems to be biased for Sainsbury’s. (And no old man.)

I guessed the Christmas-themed ad is not bigger here because advertisers save their big guns for the Super Bowl and because December is not a strong month for TV viewing.

I walked right into it. Devra Prywes,  Unruly’s vice president of marketing and insight, wasn’t buying it.  “This is my favorite rant,”  she said, before ranting.  For one, there are lot of advertisers out there--far more than advertise in the big game--and digital viewership of well-done ads makes up for any shortcomings TV has. And she notes that 51% of the views of Super Bowl ads came from sources other than the Super Bowl itself--namely streaming

So, really, shareable holiday ads are a good idea. And in the U.S. there is a plentiful supply of old men, too. What’s not to like?



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