Bear and Hare have their Super Bowl moment

'Tis the season apparently. The lights are hanging on a slightly windswept Oxford Street, the red cups are out in Starbucks and of course the Christmas ads have made their way on to our screens; but not before they were premiered on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

And what do all these social media premieres mean for the humble Christmas ad? 

Well, this year looks set to be the year that the Christmas adverts of our leading UK retailers get their ‘Super Bowl moment’.

No, nobody is accidentally revealing more than they planned. However, anyone who’s picked up a newspaper in the past week can’t help but notice that this year the ads themselves are making the news.

This is not something that is completely new to the UK. John Lewis realised the potential social media could have for a campaign long before its adored Snowman traipsed up hill and down dale to pick up a Christmas scarf for his missus.

In spring 2010, the retailer’s ‘Woman In A Red Dress’ walked through life to Fyfe Dangerfield’s version of ‘She’s Always A Woman To Me’ and the newspapers simply fell over themselves to write about the million views the ad achieved after first appearing on YouTube.

But what’s interesting about this year’s campaigns is the degree to which social media are being strategically used from the very outset to create a wider PR story about the television campaign.

A case in point is John Lewis’ latest offering, ‘Bear and Hare’. Not content with taking out the exclusive ad break of Saturday’s The X Factor for the television premiere (signed off by ‘X Factor supremo’ himself, Simon Cowell), the retailer was trailing the ad to its fans on social media long before Saturday’s warbling began.

It even went as far as to set up a Twitter feed for the advert’s creature characters, Bear and Hare (@JL_BearAndHare if you care to follow).

Within just four days of the ad’s online release, this separate feed has attracted more than 3,000 followers and the tag #bearandhare has generated 11,347 mentions to date.

Engagement figures from this preview have been used very effectively by John Lewis’ PR team (along with the eye-watering figures for the total cost of spend of the campaign) to create news about the scale of its Christmas ad campaign, which national press have been all too happy to amplify.

Other big retailers including M&S, Littlewoods and Debenhams have all cottoned on to the John Lewis template and have been building buzz with varying levels of success about their own Christmas campaigns, using Facebook and Twitter to launch teasers and previews.  

However, none of these has generated the anticipation and online hype of John Lewis; M&S’ #magicandsparkle has been tweeted 1,455 times since its launch.

To continue the Super Bowl analogy, there is no doubt that the PR buzz generated by the social media engagement will have seen touchdown celebrations galore in the marketing departments of retailers up and down the country.

 The results are indeed impressive: current views for John Lewis’ 2013 ad have already exceeded last year’s (3,663,279) and the number can only grow.

But despite the engagement and wall-to-wall coverage, we’re only just finishing the first quarter.

The question is how will these brands build on the success of this buzz and continue the momentum until the whistle blows, and what about the post-match warm down?

It’s too easy to be reductive and simply sing the praises of social’s effect on the buzz of these campaigns.

Bear and Hare may have been the stars of the half-time show and the media have willing shouted their praise from the stands, but what role will these two critters play in the lives of their Twitter followers in 2014?

Let’s hope they’re not confined to the bench once the season is over.

The question of longevity remains but ultimately what’s exciting here is how brands are using all aspects of their marketing arsenal to drive views.

The execution of a truly integrated PR campaign, where a genuine PR story powers buzz and excitement through print and online media about what is effectively just another ad launch, is surely what all marketing directors should have in mind when planning their Super Bowl line-up.

Tom Malcolm is head of consumer at Diffusion

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