Christmas ads: Has cute been crushed by eco concerns?

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The Rang-tan revolution:

Why game-changing Iceland ad might mean that cute alone won’t cut it for Christmas ads anymore

Christmas adverts are by no means a new concept, but it’s only in recent times that they’ve become an institution that’s dominated the cultural landscape.

Coca-Cola rolled out their ‘Holidays Are Coming’ advert in 1995, and it’s been an annual landmark for most people that the festive season is upon us; some people I know don’t really get into the Christmas spirit until they’ve seen the ad on TV.

Since 2007, the consumerist fragments of another Christmas tradition started to materialise.

The John Lewis Christmas ad is a phenomenon that drifted into the national psyche unannounced and unnoticed, but it wasn’t until 2011’s offering of a small boy waiting impatiently to gift his present to his parents that we really paid attention, our collective heartstrings resonating with a gentle, warming strum.

Since then, the cultural narrative has been expectant and as soon as November hits speculation is rife on when the John Lewis advert will drop and whether it’ll surpass the previous year’s version.

From 2008 until 2013, John Lewis dominated the consumerist kingdom. We were trapped in a perpetual whirlwind of snowmen panic-buying last minute gifts and animated woodland creatures exchanging presents, all the while accompanied by some breathy, lullaby cover that butchered the original. It appeared, however, that during this time there was some actual sincerity lurking beneath the surface, a momentary cheery escape from the horrors of the real world.

Then it changed. Marks & Spencer threw down the gauntlet in 2013 with an epic fairytale trailer that echoed Alice in Wonderland, and 2014 saw Sainsbury’s jump on the wagon with an advert recalling a wartime Christmas truce. The gloves were off. Threatened by new competition, the John Lewis marketing team locked themselves away in a bulletproof bunker and the first cracks in their tried and tested formula began to show.

What followed was an ugly display of budgets, a Goliath vs Goliath struggle to see whose ad could extract the most emotion. We didn’t even bat an eyelid when John Lewis’ 2015 advert depicted a lonely old man spying on a little girl through a telescope for no apparent reason. Monty the Penguin appeared prior to this and no sooner had the advert dropped, John Lewis began to stock fluffy little Montys, capitalising on tears at the tills.

I’ll admit that I bought into the ads at the very beginning. I waded into Twitter discussions and enthused with my peers, delighted at Ellie Goulding’s reworking of one of Elton John’s greats, bubbling with ill-disguised expectancy on what the next ad would bring.

But the prospect of competition harpooned any genuine emotion that John Lewis was vying to extract, and I soon cottoned on that my tear ducts were being deliberately targeted and my overdraft was purposefully under attack. A brand that had so brilliantly captured the nation’s festive attention was now adopting more guerilla tactics for my custom. John Lewis, I had your number.

This year, it all changed. Iceland launched perhaps the most poignant advert in years.

The industry body responsible for vetting TV ads, Clearcast, however, deemed it in breach of rules banning any political advertising, a move that catapulted Rang-tan to fame. The masses were outraged that Iceland’s palm oil embargo had indeed been embargoed itself, with over 500,000 people signing an online petition to have it released, and the media maelstrom cemented the ad as one of the most popular ever. John Lewis were unsurprisingly livid.

It seems that 2018 will go down as the year that Christmas advertising changed. Lidl poked fun at John Lewis’ Elton John Christmas ad with their ‘it’s a Lidl bit funny’ campaign, and we saw a wheel fall off the emotive Christmas ad vehicle. Will fluffy monsters hiding under one’s bed cut it in the future when Iceland have set the precedent for a new brand of eco-led advertisements?

Perhaps this is the beginning of another cycle. Will we become so politically saturated with ads on global warming and plastic usage that it becomes another struggle for Christmas advert power?

Or it could signal the beginning of something more meaningful if public interest in climate change is translated into consumer power that compels more manufacturers and retailers to do more to tackle environmental issues.

We shall see whether this a significant moment in marketing, or just a passing trend.

How would you like to win your very own four foot Rang-tan featured in the Iceland campaign? Visit MM&C’s Facebook page to find out more.

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