Love or hate them, Christmas ads are the UK’s Super Bowl commercial. And big bucks are involved, too.

Creatives’ eyes start glinting in April at the thought of spending hundreds of thousands on a 60-second ad, while media agencies grimace at the cost of airing it – often knowing they could spend more effectively for long-term client growth elsewhere.

So, are Christmas ads just about fame? Not brand fame, but creative agency and brand manager fame.

“Christmas ads look to pull on consumer emotions; they don’t tell you how cheap or great their products are”

M&S recently credited its Paddington ad for strong gifting sales, while Aldi’s marketing boss also attributed its strong Christmas performance to its festive ad. This suggests a big brand ad is still a wise investment.

Christmas ads look to pull on consumer emotions; they don’t tell you how cheap or great their products are.

You’d not necessarily expect that feeling all warm and fuzzy would drive an immediate purchase-click or store visit.

Either these brand ads are building emotional connection and immediate clicks – an advertising utopia – or all the other hard marketing activities working underneath aren’t getting the credit they are due.

Less glamorous marketing efforts

A cynic might say any marketing manager who has invested in a Christmas ad will want to attribute positive results to it – but, in reality, those results will have been driven by a collection of less glamorous, non-personal, ‘fame’-building marketing efforts.

So does the lure around Christmas ads miss the point of this type of brand-led advertising – driving long-term brand recognition and profitability?

In recent years, blockbuster Christmas advertising has been elevated to the holy grail of short-term sales, when it’s clearly not a direct marketing activity, especially regarding the cost involved.

Like most marketers, I’ve been hammering home the need to act like a publisher, make good relevant content and tell stories to brands for years now.

But advertisers and agencies need to be wary of self-indulgence over Christmas and focus on giving credit where credit is due when it comes to marketing activity.

Pointing to long-term growth based on the bigger strategy you and your agency have advocated can only do you favours in the long run. We all know short-termism is a scourge of our industry, so let’s start the year as we mean to go on – by thinking further ahead.

A cynical consumer

Meanwhile, if we look to the mood of consumers, the recent flurry of Christmas ads seems to have caused more negative responses and criticism than any before them.

It’s not that Moz the Monster is any worse than previous years’ creations; consumers are simply wising up and we need to stop underestimating them.

They get that brands are still trying to sell to them, but are now tugging on their heartstrings to do so. It’s only natural they should become cynical to the tactic.

So where next for the Christmas ad?

John Lewis, pioneer of the blockbuster Christmas ad, may still have some track left. And it’s certainly built brand loyalty over the years using this sustained tactic.

But the rest of the market should be feeling the pressure to evolve their Christmas strategy into something new, fresh and unexpected to once again surprise, delight and entertain.

“Consumers get that brands are still trying to sell to them, but are now tugging on their heartstrings to do so. It’s only natural they should become cynical”

While giant monsters were creepily hiding under a boy’s bed – playing out metaphors that I personally didn’t get – Poundland was making its own waves in the cluttered Christmas ad market.

A nefarious Elf on a Shelf hijacked the zeitgeist of parents posting fun, and often risqué, pictures of their kid’s elf over Christmas.

Regardless of whether the ads were appropriate, doing something different, with a much lower budget, and using formats other than television enabled them to get their own fame (or infamy).

It even perhaps put other agencies and brands that spent half a year’s budget on a single 60-second TV ad into their own compromising positions.