There is an interesting Christmas tradition in the Anglo-American culture, where department stores and luxury brands compete with each other by creating Christmas commercials each more extravagant than the last. In comparison to traditional commercials, they are longer and rely strongly on purely emotional, cinematic storytelling. This big world phenomenon has much in store for Finnish brands, as well.
A big investment
The total budget for perhaps the most successful Christmas campaign of last year, Monty the Penguin by the department store John Lewis, was seven million pounds, of which the commercial accounted for a million pounds. To put things into perspective, the corresponding 1.5 million euros is the average budget for a top-level Finnish feature-length film. Seven million pounds on the other hand comes very close to the annual sales margin for the biggest marketing communications agency in Finland.
Christmas is naturally the most important season of the year for a company like John Lewis, so it’s understandable that they have invested so much in it. The most popular Christmas commercials get tens of millions of views and become talks of the town on a large scale.
The art of the Christmas commercial
The company that perhaps took the concept of Christmas commercials furthest was the supermarket chain Sainsbury’s with their spectacular three-and-a-half-minute-long ad. The events of the commercial take place a hundred years ago, during World War I: it recounts the events of Christmas Day in 1914 on the West Front, where the fighting stopped for a moment to make way for a soccer game.
Just the free media visibility the commercial got must have been enough to make Sainsbury’s management jolly, not to mention the millions of views on YouTube and other medias. On the flipside, it should be mentioned that the use of an event from military history for marketing purposes also gave rise to a storm of complaints.
Mixing commercialism with nostalgia is risky indeed. It takes guts and faith in your story’s appeal to mix your own commercial interests with things that are considered sacred. A good example of this is the emotionally appealing and successful 2013 commercial by the airline WestJet. In the commercial the color of Santa’s coat has been rather tastelessly changed from red to reflect WestJet’s brand color. In this case, however, the good execution saves the commercial.
Speak to people who have children
Sentimental folly doesn’t hit home with everyone. You can hardly worm your way into the hearts of the snapchatting Gen Y with a Christmas commercial, although you might find some “Christmas people” even amongst them. Harvard Business Review polled people on their views on early Christmas hype. Out of all age groups, 35–44-year-olds had significantly more positive thoughts about Christmas commercials, and the ones who had children had significantly more positive views on the matter than those who didn’t.
The appeal of Christmas commercials only starts working when your grandparents pass away or you are blessed with children of your own. Christmas commercials resonate from the experiences of a chain of generations and the lost nostalgic past. This is the green pasture of warm Christmas memories that Christmas commercials build on. They are pure feeling, which is why they have such a strong effect on us.
When will we see Finnish Christmas commercials?
The Internet Age feeds the Christmas commercial phenomenon. The best Christmas commercials are very prone to go viral. And the videos themselves are the subject of an annual debate: who made the most successful ad, what do this year’s advertisements tell us about our time?
Unfortunately, supersized Christmas ads haven’t completely taken root in Finland just yet, but we aren’t totally left without our own commercials either. For example, there is Finnair’s Santa’s Secret commercial from last year. However, its views on YouTube pale in comparison to its international competitors.
This year at least Pirkka has accepted the challenge with its Majakanvartija (‘Lighthouse keeper’) spot.
Even though we have a long tradition of creating supersized emotional advertisements in Finland, there still aren’t that many Christmas-themed ones. As Santa’s homeland, Finland and Finnish companies have a lot to give also in terms of Christmas commercials. This is why I’m eagerly awaiting this phenomenon to truly take off in Finland.
Watch at least these Christmas commercials from 2015
John Lewis’s Christmas commercial this year, Man on the Moon, isn’t quite up to par with their last year’s ad, but is a guaranteed quality production.
The people at Sainsbury’s must have been jealous of John Lewis’s penguin ad from last year, because this year they are putting their faith in an animated animal as Mog the cat stars in their Christmas commercial.
One of the most successful Christmas ads of the year depicts the transformation of trade from children’s point of view.
Burberry’s 2015 Christmas commercial doesn’t rely on a story. The commercial is a take on the opening scene of the movie Billy Elliot and features an impressive cast of celebrities.
Duracell’s Christmas commercial draws from the topical Star Wars.
In Mulberry’s odd commercial a bag plays the role of baby Jesus in a nativity play transported to modern times. Who thought this was a good idea?
A classic child’s perspective and the question of what to buy for someone who already has everything.