Holiday Spots Pull at Heart Strings to Loosen Purse Strings

Nov 28, 2011

It’s not all about Black Friday in the U.K., mainly because few outside the U.S. celebrate Thanksgiving. But that doesn’t mean Christmas ads don’t get going in earnest by mid-November. Current U.K. talk is all about commercials: the rights and wrongs thereof; their potential for profit and traffic driving; the practice vs. principle of shopping and advertising. Following RetailWire’s Thanksgiving opening hours discussion, there are big questions being asked this year.

YouTube and Twitter have increased viewing figures as well. According to the Daily Telegraph, John Lewis’s £6 million ad had nearly half a million views on the former and trended on the latter "within hours of launch." Partly because it features a song by the eighties alternative rock band, The Smiths, the video has garnered more than 2.3 million views on YouTube.

That said, not everyone loved it, with critics labelling it "emotionally manipulative."

Alex Clark in The Guardian was amongst those upset by the choice of a track by an "anti-consumerist, anti-Thatcherite and anti-establishment" band "to part us from our festive cash."

(More British ads can be seen here…)

Robert Booth, also in The Guardian, reckoned that John Lewis "has decided lovers of the 1980s anti-establishment rock band now represent its core target market." He quotes Craig Inglis, JL’s director of marketing, saying that The Smiths’ "iconic nature" and the fact they are British fit with the 45-55 age group of their core audience.

The Financial Times claims low TV prices are responsible for longer ads (60 or 90 seconds rather than the usual 30) "that get people talking, especially online." This is confirmed by an ad agency exec who notes, "Social [media] spending is going up and up but we know you cannot build brands solely online. … You need to build an emotional connection and TV is the best way to do that."

JL sells "lifestyle" but other stores employ differing levels of subtlety. Marks & Spencer uses X Factor finalists, Jamie Oliver serves dinner to characters in Christmas plays for Sainsburys, Iceland focuses on products and Littlewoods has kids singing about the presents to be found in its catalogue. Many others will be seen, avoided and/or succumbed to in different proportions. As another Guardian piece says, Christmas ads most likely work "otherwise they wouldn’t have become such a feature of our end-of-year screens for decades."

We may all be in this together, politicians keep saying, but some are more into it than others.

Discussion Questions: Do you have an issue with “emotionally manipulative” commercials? Are there particular themes that you think will be most effective this year considering factors such as the economy?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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7 Comments on "Holiday Spots Pull at Heart Strings to Loosen Purse Strings"

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Bob Phibbs
9 years 5 months ago

Stories have always been used from the Mac 1984 to the VW Darth Vader super bowl commercial last year. What’s happened is that many people have become jaded, smug, and cynical. They expect the worst and find it. Worse, they work in your store and bring that to your party.

I would rather have a product or retail commercial tug at my heartstrings than push me to fight or flight like so much of the news. I think most shoppers would agree.

Kevin Graff
9 years 5 months ago

If we have a problem with “emotionally manipulative” ads, then I guess we should pull all beer commercials, car ads and pretty much everything else too. The best marketing, advertising and selling works to create emotional links between products and ideas with the customer. What else are we to do? Just put out mundane flyers with pictures on an item and a price tag?

Frankly, and it’s been said often before, the best part of TV (and now the internet) is all of the wonderful, entertaining and emotional-tugging ads.

Warren Thayer
9 years 5 months ago

No issue with emotionally manipulative commercials, even though I cry easily over puppies, babies and the usual heart-tuggers. As for what will be most effective types of commercials this year, it depends on the product and the audience. So sorry, no easy answer. I do think companies should avoid doing spots that degrade the performer, such as the proposal for a hemorrhoid cream that wanted to use Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire as background music in a spot (thank God they lost) and attempts to cash in on John Lennon’s Imagine.

Steve Montgomery
9 years 5 months ago

Part of getting people to connect with your products/services to create an emotional bond. The product itself may or may not do that but the connection generally begins with an ad.

Whether it Coke and Mean Joe Green or the “Every Kiss Begins with Kay” ads are meant to stir emotions so consumers vest in the products. If not, as Kevin has already pointed out, we are going to do static item price ads.

Nikki Baird
Nikki Baird
9 years 5 months ago

As a contrast, Ad Age ran an editorial piece about whether advertisers were getting too fixated on promotions and losing the holiday “story.” After hearing the news about pepper spray and gunfights in stores over Black Friday, I would much rather deal in John Lewis’s emotional currency, thank you very much.

And while I resent being old enough that iconic bands of my youth are now the stuff of commercials, I think some people may need to lighten up about the political ramifications of the song choice. At this point in our lives, we remember the songs, not necessarily the heat of the politics.

Jonathan Marek
9 years 5 months ago

That’s a very sweet ad. Really, people are complaining about using that song? Hasn’t this bridge (using anti-establishment songs in commercials) been crossed a thousand times before?

Ed Rosenbaum
9 years 5 months ago

How can we have an issue with “emotionally manipulative” commercials? They are all over our TV screens from the moment we turn it on until we turn it off!


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