A dearth of Christmas creativity? How Kiwi retailers’ festive advertising efforts stack up against their foreign counterparts

It’s not Christmas without carols, trees and ads. And while New Zealand retail brands aren’t going as large as those in the UK, whose Christmas campaigns tend to be looked forward to and often clock up views in the millions, there are signs that things might be heading in a more emotional direction here too. 

Traditionally, retail advertising at Christmas has focused on the rational (Vince Martin’s classic Winter Wonderland rendition for Beaurepaires could be considered a notable exception—and, for some, a sign that Christmas has arrived), but research by ThinkTV suggests it is in fact our subconscious that’s in charge. The more emotional the ad, the more it’s recalled. And, as FCB’s David Thomason said in NZ Marketing, the only thing that correlates with effectiveness in pre-testing is likeability. 

Hotfoot’s chief executive Juanita Neville-Te Rito wrote a post on The Register asking why Kiwi retailers weren’t taking the opportunity to wow consumers over Christmas like brands overseas do? John Lewis’ annual Christmas campaign is widely regarded as the gold standard, with previous efforts like Monty and the Penguin and The Bear and the Hare getting plenty of love. And its newest ad has already received over 10 million views on YouTube—and reduced some in our office to tears.

The UK department store’s ‘#ManOnTheMoon’ advert shows a little girl trying to make contact with an adorable old man alone on the moon. With a telescope and a few helium balloons, John Lewis tells the audience to “show someone they’re loved this Christmas”. 

Even PayPal managed to put some magic into the Christmas shopping season with its ad ‘No Presents’. When mum and dad fail to go out and do Christmas shopping, two little boys brace themselves for a tree minus the presents. But, like magic, PayPal becomes the modern day Santa as presents can be ordered and delivered while the children sleep.

Closer to home, The Warehouse’s campaign is a continuation from last year’s ‘What if we let kids do the family Christmas shopping’ by DDB, where children were given free reign in the store to find presents for the family.

Traditionally, The Warehouse’s communications have focused on pushing prices but for Christmas, shots of little girls waddling in high heels and little boys picking out handbags for mums and aunties are used to draw in the shoppers. The Warehouse Group’s spokesperson says the team was keen to add another layer to the story.

“Christmas is about bringing people together, reuniting families, celebrating and rewarding each other. You’ll still get a bargain, and now you’ll remember the joy of these kids while shopping for one.”

Given the amount of money spent on food at this time of year, it’s not surprising that UK supermarkets often invest heavily in brand campaigns for Christmas (Sainsbury’s recreated the Christmas truce from WW1 last year and worked with director Kevin Macdonald in 2013 to make a crowd-sourced docu-ad called Christmas in a Day that eventually screened in cinemas; Tesco focused on one family over time in 2013 and on festive joy this year; and Waitrose asked ‘what is it that makes Christmas so special?‘). 

Countdown has moved away from emotional brand ads in recent years (RIP The Coleman family) and focused more on price-led communications. But that’s changed slightly with its Christmas spot. Again, the look of joy on children’s faces is employed in the ‘Food Glorious Food’ campaign to bring in the season without any specific product information.

Conversely, Foodstuffs has been taking a more creative, humorous approach with its advertising and New World has been particularly kooky, so it wouldn’t be too surprising to see it launching something more akin to the brand ads from the UK retailers soon. 

Other UK retailers have taken a more cynical view of Christmas and the difficult (often competitive) art of gift giving. Harvey Nichols suggests frequenting its store to avoid gift face, while Curry’s employed the services of Jeff Goldblum to teach people how to respond in difficult situations. Mulberry riffed on the nativity scene this year to follow up its explicitly competitive #WinChristmas campaign from 2014. 

Briscoes still tends to favour the hard-nosed retail ads, but, like its stablemate Rebel Sport, it has moved in a slightly more creative direction in recent years. And its Christmas ad is well-shot and has a similar family-friendly vibe to Countdown’s effort. 

At the wrong end of the Christmas continuum sits Whitcoulls, whose ad (which also couldn’t be found online) features shop assistants in Santa hats singing about the store’s Christmas product offerings. 

As Countdown’s Bridget Lamont told StopPress recently, retailers still do shouty, rational, price-led ads because they work. And the product-pushing can’t hide behind a Santa costume in Skinny Mobile’s ‘The Gift of Gigging’ and Yamaha Motors’ ad featuring men and children dressed as blue Santas riding motorbikes. 

But it’s not all about the jolly man in red during the ad break this year. Unlike the UK and US, we won’t have a fairytale white Christmas, so Rebel Sport’s ‘#100 Days of Sport’ promotes summer rather than Santa.

While the John Lewis and PayPal ads may provide a guilty Christmas pleasure, you can’t beat the sight of some summer sports and a beach. Just maybe without the speedos.

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