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Opinion: How to make a good Christmas ad, and a look at the best around

Advertising professional Kathleen Moore explains the process in creating those memorable Christmas ads and outlines some of her favourites.

Kathleen Moore

LIKE A CHILD who spies their first Christmas tree of the season, when a client tells me they need a Christmas ad, I get excited.

There’s something about an ad at Christmas time which gets everyone (including you) excited. After nearly two decades working in advertising, I know now that an ad for half-priced chickens doesn’t get quite the same response, but maybe that’s a vegetarian’s perspective. Here’s why I think that is.

Advertising at Christmas time tends to be warm and fuzzy because, well, that is how people generally like to feel at Christmas. But how to make people feel warm and fuzzy about a brand at Christmas time memorably, is where the work is.

Customer care

If context is king, then the target customer is the queen or something along those lines. We need to understand what’s going on right now and how what’s going on is impacting on our customers’ lives.

This is where our research starts. Finding out how people are feeling about Christmas this year and what role (if any) a brand plays within that is where the kernel of a Christmas ad lives.

When people see something they can relate to, they’ll want to watch and listen. Generally, Christmas ads revolve around universal values we hold sacred at this time of year, like childhood, memories, magic, belief, love, togetherness and giving. It’s what gives many Christmas ads a certain timeless quality.

But what’s different about this year – and this Christmas – is we’ve realised many things we once took blindly for granted are all we really want. With very little, we can count on in our lives right now, its a bit of a scary time for a lot of people. So offering comfort – hope – relief from the uncertainty of everything else is what a lot of people need.

Delicate balance

Not overstating the importance of the brand role in people’s lives is also crucial. This is the reality check. People probably don’t really care about your client’s business. Not in an everyday ‘hierarchy of needs’ sense. So an advertiser needs to apply a little bit of humility to the message on behalf of the client.

There’s only so much a company can promise its product or service can do in the lives of its customers.

Great creative ideas tell us something new or in an interesting way – or both – and help to solve a real human problem, while enmeshing the brand in that meaningful solution. It sounds lovely and pretty straightforward (and sometimes it can be) but expressing it simply is a skill.

And a really good idea can get lost quite quickly with too many divergent opinions and objectives. So if you’re lucky enough to come up with a good idea, tell it in the simplest way possible.

Most of the work thereafter is protecting that good idea throughout the production process. Or even, making it better with the right actors and the right music and have it move at the right pace.

Finally, timing really is everything. A jingle-bell a week too early incites pure outrage among many and a week later means your ad merely joins the chorus of all the others.

Here are my top five favourite Christmas ads:

1. Barry’s Tea – Train Set

Source: flurbyrock/YouTube

The one ad I wait for every year is Barry’s Tea Train-set radio ad. A total classic. Being a radio ad means there are no hairstyles or clothes to age it. This is an ad I’ll keep the engine running for after I’ve parked the car (like the ad-nerd that I am).

I love hearing about the magic of Christmas morning as a kid, the beautiful quality of the actors’ voice, the masterful blending of story and sound. Not only this, which would be enough in itself, but the brand and product are dreamily interwoven. And never have I ever forgotten that Barry’s is the tea which is right in the heart of the cosy moments of this ad.

2. Denny – “He’s a werry dud Santy”

Source: Denny/YouTube

Another marker of a great ad is the delight people take in its quote-ability. You know the line I’m talking about. Again, the delight is in witnessing that moment the little girl walks into the room, sees her gifts from Santa – her little gasp of disbelief!

Her giddy dance to unwrap the presents. And cycling her new bike in circles around her parents’ legs in the kitchen while they make Christmas morning breakfast. Ah! I remember when… that’s what it evokes. Recent watches of this ad have me noticing (of course, now being a mum) her beaming parents. Cuteness all around.

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3. John Lewis – Monty the Penguin

Source: PopcornMedia/YouTube

When I hear about the fabled budgets, time and people behind the massive John Lewis Christmas ads, I burn with a mix of awe and shock. Truthfully, I am also envious, naturally.

However, I don’t remember all of them, which says something, but their infamy is well deserved. Monty the Penguin – a story about the connection and comfort and creativity a favourite toy can inspire. And the ever-present goodness that comes from giving. I peel onions with every watch.

4.Guinness – Home of the Black Stuff

Source: GuinnessIreland/YouTube

I have strong opinions about Guinness advertising and not all of them are positive – but this ad is humble and timeless and reminds me of a poem: a well-wrapped man walking his dog at midnight, a wooden post with an inch of snow, the foggy snort of a horse at night over the stable door, the music, the paced delivery and a simple Christmas wish… It reminds me of that moment on Christmas Eve when you pause to take it all in, with the world and your family sleeping around you and the promise of Christmas day sitting snugly on your shoulder.

5. SuperValu – #Believe

Source: SuperValuIreland/YouTube

I think one of the reasons this ad has been so well-liked is because it reflects our feelings about this particular Christmas. We can all remember that niggling childhood worries that maybe you weren’t on the nice list after all. And this year our worries that maybe we won’t get to spend Christmas with those we love are real. And sometimes all we can do is believe.

Kathleen Moore is an advertising & marketing professional and has directed the brand strategy for many businesses including Ryanair, Tesco and more recently for SuperValu while in TBWA\Dublin.

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Kathleen Moore

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