‘Terrified Tick-Boxers’ failed with this year’s Christmas campaigns

I was not surprised to see Coke’s 'Holidays are coming’ outperforming the latest brand efforts in the Christmas advertising stakes this year.

Those who did best stuck to the 'classics', argues Richard Tompkins
Those who did best stuck to the 'classics', argues Richard Tompkins

'Holidays are coming' sits in the same category as Wizzard's I Wish it Could be Christmas Everyday, Cliff’s Mistletoe & Wine and the timeless film It’s a Wonderful Life: it’s a Christmas classic.

So, as I read through the findings of Kantar’s report into the effectiveness of Christmas adverts, I couldn’t help feeling a little bit sad for where a lot of brands have come to in 2020.

Not sad because of the emotive way these adverts were meant to make me feel; sad that so many well-loved brands had fallen foul of trying to tick every box and ultimately missed the mark.

The good ol’ Christmas advert is meant to take us on an emotional journey, from loneliness to togetherness, boredom to escapism, sadness to joy, lost causes to hope and happiness; finished off with a clever dollop of brand messaging.

Of course, this year has been different; we’ve already had the very real emotional journey, the sadness, the boredom, the lost causes, the loneliness.

It must literally have been the nightmare before Christmas for marketers up and down the country, with the real danger of COVID-19 still at large.

How should they balance their biggest piece of marketing of the year?

Get it wrong and they would be chastised for missing the tone of the nation, accused of wasting money that could’ve gone elsewhere or, worse still, profiteering from one of the biggest crises in living memory.

So, what did they do?

Sadly, many fell into a category that we’ll refer to as the ‘Terrified Tick-Boxers’.

These were the brands that were so concerned about causing offence and long-term reputation damage that, much like a crisis statement, they tried to ensure they were covered for every eventuality.

I can only imagine the creatives tearing their hair out as any powerful, emotive storylines were watered down, as charity partnerships were forced in and the legal team (yes, they get everywhere) had their say.

The outcome, sadly, was that a huge number of adverts were made that will be forgotten quickly.

They certainly don’t have the watch-again factor.

Then you had the 'COVID-Citers'.

These were the brands that directly or indirectly sought to respond to the pandemic.

Brave? Yes. But ultimately, the good intentions often left a rather odd taste in the mouth.

In fact, it was really only Tesco that really managed to walk the pandemic tightrope and succeed.

‘No Naughty List’ managed to play into all the little ‘naughties’ we’ve all had this year with honesty and humour.

No, the real successes this Christmas came from those that have done possibly the bravest thing of all: ignored the elephant in the room.

Disney+ brought us pure escapism with a powerful blend of theatrical content intertwined with an excellent cover of What a Wonderful World. Aldi kept to its Kevin the Carrot narrative, subtly delivering movie hit references from Home Alone and ET.

Argos produced a magical display with its ‘Sisters magic show’ advert, a product-led piece that ultimately leads back to the famous catalogue.

And Coca-Cola did it again with the heart-warming story ‘The Letter’, directed by Taika Waititi, in which a daughter get her wish – her father home for Christmas.

Those that really succeeded knew to stick with the trusted format.

After all, what better way to forget 2020 than to ignore it and give us the normality that a festive ad should – a proper emotional journey, loneliness to togetherness, boredom to escapism, sadness to joy, lost causes to hope and happiness.

So, in future we must be bold and brave, even if it means following a well-trodden path.

We’ll all still listen to the same Christmas classics and watch the same timeless films.

After all, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

Richard Tompkins is a founding partner of Where Eagles Dare

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