’Tis the season to watch telly – or more likely these days YouTube – as retailers unveil their Christmas ads.

Buster the Boxer looks on as wild animals bounce on the trampoline

Buster

Buster the Boxer looks on as wild animals bounce on the trampoline

The Spielberg-style blockbusters have become as much a part of the Christmas season as turkey and mince pies.

They are big talking points – frequently reviewed as if they are Oscar contenders – whose characters rapidly become as familiar as the cast of EastEnders.

Such is the interest that John Lewis’s ad featuring Buster the boxer has, at the time of writing, notched up 15.5m views on YouTube. M&S has managed just under 5m.

“John Lewis’s ad featuring Buster the boxer has, at the time of writing, notched up 15.5m views on YouTube”

The influence of John Lewis in particular is evidenced by how retailers ranging from Aldi to Argos to Robert Dyas have had fun cashing in on the interest with their own spoofs which have been widely shared on social media.

It might all prompt the question: what are Christmas ads for? In the old days they were typically about product and price, and that’s still the case for many retailers today.

Brand association

But for others it seems to be about brand associations which put the retailer front of mind as shoppers ponder what presents to buy their nearest and dearest, and reinforcing company values that, it is hoped, will strengthen long-term ties with consumers.

Sainsbury’s ad this year – an animated epic in partnership with Great Ormond Street – is one obvious example of that.

Opinions will differ about which approach works best, and one size will not fit all retailers.

But in a year in which retail has often dominated headlines for all the wrong reasons, it does no harm for the public to be reminded that many retailers more than do their bit to contribute to the communities they serve.

Disrupting Christmas shopping

As much a fixture of the seasonal calendar as the ads is the traditional complaint that the selling season has come too early. Can’t retailers at least wait until December, the Scrooges carp.

If it was ever possible to leave marketing late, it certainly isn’t now.

“Over the last few years the established pattern of Christmas trading has been disrupted by the rise of Black Friday”

Over the last few years the established pattern of Christmas trading has been disrupted by the rise of Black Friday.

This year, the promotion has been dramatically extended as Amazon launched 12 days of deals culminating on Black Friday, November 25.

The etail giant has changed the shopping landscape time after time, and will perhaps again shift seasonal buying habits this year.

If so, and spending is pulled ever further forward, perhaps retailers’ Christmas advertising spectaculars will become a thing of the past – or Christmas in July will take on a whole new meaning.

Celebrating shops

While the focus of the moment is Black Friday and the resulting online action, it’s easy to forget the pivotal role that stores still have.

The bricks-and-mortar shop retains a starring role in the bulk of retail sales and the existence of a network of branches often contributes to the growth of retailers’ online revenues.

“The bricks-and-mortar shop retains a starring role in the bulk of retail sales”

In our print coverage this week (November 18 issue) we celebrate what makes some of the world’s greatest shops so special, and online you’ll find an updated version of our Top of the Shops chart, ranking the UK’s best stores.

Which particular stores would you rank as world-class? Let us know.