The RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge Global Edition – Debenhams vs. House of Fraser

Discussion
Debenhams - "#YouShall Find Your Fairytale Christmas Part 2"
Nov 22, 2017
George Anderson

Sainsbury’s knocked off Marks & Spencer, the winner of the 2016 RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge, in voting last week as this year’s competition got started. Today’s matchup pits two of England’s famous department stores — Debenhams and House of Fraser — against one another.

Debenhams’ #YouShall spot offers a new take on the Cinderella story with a beautiful young woman, a handsome man and a dropped shoe. The story (“the stuff of fairytales”) includes outfits from the characters, Ellie and Josh, that those living in the real world can wear, as well. The department store has built its Christmas marketing efforts around the #YouShall theme with a webpage that includes in-store events, product personalization offers and its free personal shopper service.

House of Fraser’s “Bring Merry Back” follows other retailers in using infectious oldies, in this case “Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas” by The Staples Singers. The commercial shows scenes of two sisters in the present and as kids. Events don’t always go as perfectly as planned but, in the end, the two sisters epitomize the joy of the season in their love for one another. House of Fraser implores its customers to leave the worry behind, enjoy family and friends, and simply have more fun this Christmas – presumably after shopping in its stores or on its site, which offers gifts suggestions in a wide variety of categories and ways.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:  What is your critique of Debenhams’ “#YouShall Find Your Fairtytale” and House of Fraser’s “Bring Merry Back” commercials? Which do you think is the more effective of the two? Would these spots work for a U.S. retailer?

Braintrust
"Both are charming, real and touch all the emotional Christmas vibes in the right way. "
"The Debenhams spot is more effective as it brings a fairy tale into the Twitter and social media age replete with imagery and strong narrative..."
"...saying they will not sell products seems a little odd! It’s about brand immersion and just “make me feel good” within the brand."

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22 Comments on "The RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge Global Edition – Debenhams vs. House of Fraser"

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Art Suriano
BrainTrust
These types of ads are more about who created them and how unique they are rather than what they will do to drive sales. Both spots show strong creative. But neither commercial, in my opinion, does anything to support the brand. The first ad is entertaining, telling a cute story. It’s warm and, like all fairy tales, has a happy ending. But how many times could someone watch the ad without tuning it out? And waiting for the end to see Debenhams’ “You Shall Find Your Fairytale” tells me we could have used any brand’s name; Macy’s, Nordstrom, etc. The second commercial is more upbeat and has fun moments, but I make the same argument that it doesn’t do anything to support the brand. So when asked if these commercials would work in the U.S., I would say they would get lost in the clutter of all the other Christmas commercials and not do very much for the company running them. So the ad agency may win the Clio award for the creative campaign, but… Read more »
Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

I agree with Art. Interesting story and feel-good ads, but little about the brand. They would likely be watched once or twice but not leave a lasting positive impression about the brand. I don’t think they would work any better in the U.S.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

You shall find your fairy tale in Macy’s … perhaps, but it would take a few days to find it amid all the clutter and mess in the store!

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

Now that’s an entirely different topic — LOL — and I don’t disagree.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

I too am with you, Art. I wouldn’t even have known who the brands were much less what they sold. But, the creatives were great! Especially House of Fraser. At least it was about Christmas. For my 2 cents.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

I like both of these.

House of Fraser’s message of “bringing back merry” is important and will resonate with consumers. The nostalgic nature of the spot will feed the love of retrophilia. My only criticism is that the piece could have more emotional guts; it seems a bit lightweight.

The Debenhams’ advertisement is great and, in my opinion, is the better of the two. I love the way it places a modern spin — complete with hashtags — on a traditional story! It is very engaging and magical.

Adam Simon
Guest

I’m with you on this one!

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

These are two good spots that would work in the U.S. My vote goes to Debenhams for offering a holiday fairy tale that tugs at the heart. House of Fraser’s spot moved so quickly between cuts that it was impossible to fully appreciate.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Both commercials were non-commercial in nature. Neither blatantly focused on the items they had for sale during the Christmas season. Both were about love — a popular theme for commercials at this time of year. One about a romantic lover and the other for the love within a family. My vote goes to Debenhams.

Would they work in the U.S.? To support their brand perhaps but not necessarily to sell more product.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Both are charming, real and touch all the emotional Christmas vibes in the right way. But I think the House of Fraser advertisement does a better job on the product side, especially in terms of thinking about actually buying something. The “did you see that cool ad?” factor is high for both but, in either case, they could do a better job of talking about/showing who this is brought to you by!

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

These are a couple of very entertaining videos, whose 90- and 60-second formats make for great online viewing. While it is true that commercials may not enhance the brand like other commercials, they are uplifting at a time when we all need a little romance and reminder of what’s important (family). It’s somewhat ironic that the British, sometimes perceived as staid, produce such innovative advertising. I think these commercials would work in the U.S. given the media used to showcase them.

Debenhams’ #YouShall spot was my choice. It gave me chills! Thank you Debenhams for resurrecting my London memories.

Adam Simon
Guest

Debenhams wins my vote for a cracking good story which we all know well, placed into a modern idiom. People who watch advertisements at this time of year are always keen to know who has made the commercial so they can talk about it (like we are), so for me this is a good brand building exercise. There is a big prize which John Lewis has had for the last few years of being the most talked about Christmas advertisement.

The YouTube numbers prove it by the way for Debenhams vs. House of Fraser — 1.3 million vs. 70,000 views!

Leading is JLP with 8.4 million then M&S with 6.2 million and then, a long way behind, Aldi at 2.2 million.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

These are fairly creative feel-good spots, admittedly coming from almost polar positionings. Debenhams spot speaks to an idealized sense of joy while the House of Fraser ad is clearly rooted in everyday experience. I’d give the nod to Debenhams for a first view but I think House of Fraser ad would probably work better over the course of multiple viewings. Either spot could work for a U.S. retailer, depending on the retailer of course, but Debenhams’ messaging seems to be less applicable to a broad range of American retailers than House of Fraser.

Rich Kizer
Guest

Hands down for me, the Debenhams commercial — it held me. Creative and emotional.

It is one thing to have a focus to just sell products and, then, perhaps another to create an emotional rush for the viewer, which makes the viewer feel that same way about the business. The House of Fraser ad had all the qualities I expect in a good ad for the holidays; the key word “expect,” which insinuates that I see those more frequently. Actually, this ad made me work, and I finally figured it out (after the second view) — they were (sisters?) the same people growing up and still creating great memories. Call me slow, but I didn’t get that at first. When I did, I liked the ad much more. But Debenhams still gets my vote.

Peter Luff
BrainTrust

These ads are clearly not about point products, both have too many product lines they want to sell this festive period — saying they will not sell products seems a little odd! It’s about brand immersion and just “make me feel good” within the brand.

My preference is for Debenhams, there are lots of products are clearly being worn and it’s a classic story we can all quickly understand. The House of Fraser advertisement, when I first saw it, took me a little while to work out who was who, partly as it was a “fresh” story to take in.

Would these work in the U.S.? Yes I am sure they would. Oddly the styles of the British ads and the likes of Nordstrom, Macy’s, etc. do not seem too dissimilar.

But then, what do I know, I picked M&S last time around! 

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

Two very effective and creative spots that punctuate their respective brand image. The House of Fraser advertisement is a story about the special relationship between two sisters over the years as it moves back and forth across time to illustrate deep emotions we can all relate to.

The Debenhams spot is even more effective as it brings a fairy tale story into the Twitter and social media age replete with imagery and strong narrative to keep you interested. In their home market, Debenhams is working hard to stand out from others such as John Lewis or M&S and this spot helps. Debenhams gets my vote.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

I enjoyed both; but am not sure what Debenham’s was trying to accomplish for Christmas. House of Fraser’s had more of a tug on me. Still not sure which ad would drive me to shop at either place.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

I’d give the Debenham’s spot an edge in this face-off, based mainly on how it modernizes a familiar part of the Cinderella story with a social media trope. It’s got a storyline at least, although it’s far from sales-y.

The House of Fraser commercial wins points for its ironic use of a lesser-known R&B classic song. I had to watch it twice to grasp the story arc about sisters, but I didn’t mind so much because I enjoyed hearing the music.

Naomi K. Shapiro
BrainTrust

I don’t know the typical audience for either store, so if you ask the question about audience this time, it would be young and romantic for Debenham’s — more in a tone for selling shoes, of course; jewelry (e.g. engagement rings); party and wedding dresses. Meanwhile the Fraser’s ad was hard to understand, too frenetic, so the message gets a bit strained — it would, however, sell more of a variety of things, but felt the opposite of having a relaxing, fulfilling holiday.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Oh my, Scrooge checking in here: two more duds, I’m afraid, with little connection to the brands and long, confusing/irrelevant story lines (that a commercial even has a “storyline” beyond “SHOP @ XXX” is a hint it’s gone off track).

OTOH, The Deb’s spot seems to be such a promo for social media it should perhaps be tied-in to the second of today’s discussions.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Neither of these spots gets my vote. They say nothing motivating for either Debenhams or Fraser.

Bernbach’s head of copy, Bob Levenson, once observed “Here’s the test. If you look at an ad and fall in love with the brilliance of it, try taking the product out of it.  If you still love the ad, it’s no good.  Don’t make your ad interesting; make your product interesting.”

These both miserably fail this Levenson test. While they are fascinating movie making (different approaches), they reflect the bankruptcy of the idea that merely a good story matters.

Some might suggest there’s a “reminder” value. But that reminder doesn’t happen for a very long time into the ad — by which time viewers will have clicked away their attention to something else.

Good moviemaking is NOT good advertising.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Two thumbs up! I think both ads strike effective emotional chords and are extremely well produced. However, I am most enamored by the immersiveness of the Debenhams ad … and how the #YouShall products promoted on the accompanying web pages allow me to stay immersed. I also appreciate the way they connect to the store experiences and events as well.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Both are charming, real and touch all the emotional Christmas vibes in the right way. "
"The Debenhams spot is more effective as it brings a fairy tale into the Twitter and social media age replete with imagery and strong narrative..."
"...saying they will not sell products seems a little odd! It’s about brand immersion and just “make me feel good” within the brand."

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