Retailers’ Christmas campaigns need a few essential ingredients to stand out.

'Mrs Claus' features in Marks & Spencer's 2016 Christmas advert

Marks & Spencer’s 2016 Christmas advert

‘Mrs Claus’ features in Marks & Spencer’s 2016 Christmas advert

What do John Lewis, Aldi, Lidl, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, M&S and Tesco all have in common? Answer: in the last week they have all released their 2016 Christmas TV ads to an expectant audience.

Yes, ‘tis the season to ooh and ah, feel the goosebumps and maybe shed a tear or two.

It is always fascinating to see the different interpretations of what Christmas means brought to life on screen.

While John Lewis has rightly been the benchmark for many years, this year it perhaps been eclipsed.

And some retailers’ ads, frankly, probably deserved to stay on the cutting room floor.

So what makes a great retail Christmas ad?

I’d argue that to be impactful, there are five characteristics that all successful ones should possess.

Brand engagement

Any successful TV ad campaign needs to not only be clear about the brand but most importantly what the brand stands for, and never is that more important than at Christmas.

In other words, the brand must strive to become a part of someone’s Christmas memories (many still recall John Lewis’s ‘Man on the Moon’) and in this way the connection is made.

Emotional attachment

“For many people, Christmas is a time for reflection and sharing”

Which brings us nicely to the emotional attachment – especially at Christmas when our emotions are more receptive than ever to suggestion.

For many people, Christmas is a time for reflection and sharing.

The best ads exploit this with images that stir these feelings and this has certainly been a recurring theme this year with John Lewis, M&S and Waitrose all pressing these buttons.

Ability to inspire

Against all this is the backdrop of a much tougher retail environment where consumer loyalty is a thing of the past, and shoppers are ever more savvy and unpredicatble in their behaviour.

The Christmas ad is an opportunity for retailers to claw back custom. Let’s face it, most people are seeking a little gift inspiration.

Music

Music stirs the soul and no more so is this evident than when a great soundtrack provides the canvas for a Christmas ad.

Whether it be British newcomers The Vaults with their version of ‘One Day I’ll Fly Away’ (John Lewis) or Rachel Portman and ‘With Love’ (M&S), it’s the music which stirs us as much as anything else.

The goosebump test

Last but by no means least, the goosebump test.

“Whether it be the bouncing foxes, Mrs Claus welcoming her husband home, the robin reunited with his mate or even Kevin the carrot, if it passes the goosebump test then there can’t be much wrong”

Everybody has experienced it and if an ad has all the other characteristics listed here, it will surely pass this test.

Whether it be the bouncing foxes, Mrs Claus welcoming her husband home, the robin reunited with his mate or even Kevin the carrot, if it passes the goosebump test then there can’t be much wrong.

And which is my personal favourite?

While I love Kevin the carrot from Aldi, this year the award has to go to M&S. Featuring Mrs Claus, 21st century technology and an emotionally charged soundtrack, it pretty much ticks all the boxes.

  • Andrew Busby is the founder of Retail Reflections and The Retail Advisory Board