Growing up, a highlight of the festive season was gathering in the living room the weekend before Christmas Day to find out which pop star, or novelty children's TV character, had secured the game-changing distinction of being Xmas number one in the music charts.
Yes, Coca Cola’s souped-up lorry was an annual event the child in all of us looked forward to, turning actual children, and some adults, into mini tornadoes of excitement with its suitably seasonal TV advertising angle, but nothing has come close to the sheer boldness and competition of this year’s television market, with brands increasing their budgets, ad lengths and ambitions on an unprecedented scale.
We’ve had M&S parting with millions to create otherworldly landscapes brought to life by A-list Hollywood actresses and world-renowned lingerie models; John Lewis spending £7 million on another critically–acclaimed animation complete with exclusive Lily Allen soundtrack; Sainsbury’s following suit with a feature length documentary directed by an Academy Award winner, and KFC entering the fray for the first time with a festive musical bonanza. Add Iceland Tesco, Lidl, Harvey Nichols, Cadbury’s and Baileys – to name a few – and the battle for viewer attention becomes clear in its intensity.
What’s particularly notable about this year’s Christmas TV advertising market is the grandeur of it all. Campaign launches have become national events, upstaging the programmes they appear within whilst creating a buzz upon every media platform available. Every one of the brands aforementioned has taken over an advertising break to mark its national launch, generating more online conversation than the TV schedule itself as television viewers seek to attach themselves emotionally to the season.
The online element is especially important. This year the biggest, highest-spending Christmas advertisers have all gone mobile, placing great emphasis on integrated marketing strategies. Ads are now viewable anywhere and at any time, launching on Youtube prior to national rollout in order to stir attention and generate word-of-mouth activity on platforms including Twitter and Facebook. Twitter has become the primary source of social validation, allowing brands to gain real-time insights into public response whilst concurrently driving engagement as both a sharing and interactive platform.
That advertisers are now placing such great importance on the dual screen mode of TV viewing is a reflection of the effect technological evolution is having on sales conversions. The bridge from consideration to purchase has been shortened as marketers improve the convenience, ease and speed of transaction, making it possible for TV viewers to watch and buy in the same ad break. Consequently brands are pulling out all of the stops to make the sales pitch as compelling and pertinent as possible, increasing competition, and ambition, as a result.
Christmas advertising has become the UK’s Super Bowl; it’s sheer scale now a national TV event designed to seduce and inspire with beguiling visual and aural triggers. Whilst a decade ago we were arguing about which paint-by-numbers Christmas single was deserving of the festive number one, now we’re taking to the internet to pledge our TV advertising allegiance. And to emphasise TV’s power as the UK’s cultural zeitgeist, the blame for our migration away from the festive radio calendar is at least partially attributable to The X Factor and its glut of uninspiring Christmas chart hopefuls.