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The Top 5 Christmas Ads of 2015 (So Far)

Boy, that escalated quickly! Here we are, barely over a month away from Christmas, and many brands have (naturally) been making their cases for our holiday dollars for the better part of November.

While we haven’t seen anything yet from perennial holiday advertisers such as Apple and WestJet, some fantastic campaigns have already emerged. Here are my five top picks from what we’ve seen from the holiday season so far.

#5: Toys R Us – “Like Father, Like Daughter”

 

One of the main reasons Star Wars is so transcendent is its appeal across generations; with films now spanning across 5 decades. From the original trilogy and onwards, the movies are not only family-friendly but they have included family as a dominant theme. And based on the teasers for Episode VII, it’s evident that family connections will remain prominent in the next three films.

Toys R Us is understandably (and smartly) betting big on “The Force Awakens” to be a massive force to drive toy sales this Christmas season. By appealing to Gen-Xers’ profound affinity for Star Wars and their desire to share that love with the next generation of children, Toys R Us positions itself as the definitive Star Wars retail destination.

For a 60-second spot, the adorable scenes with great interplay between the actors combine for some strong emotional resonance. While the final setting in the toy aisles somewhat detracts from the raw storytelling, it effectively shows the priority that Toys R Us has dedicated to the Star Wars franchise for Christmas 2015.

#4: Interac – “Toy Store”

 

In advertising, the months of November and December function primarily for marketers to convince holiday shoppers to loosen their purse strings and spend joyfully with their credit cards. Interac faces an uphill, unsexy battle to persuade Canadians to think about the financial consequences and consider paying with debit.

“Toy Store” by Zulu Alpha Kilo imagines a holiday reality where product costs are more overtly stated than price tags could ever afford. Classic (unbranded) Christmas toys like nutcrackers, stuffed bears, dolls, and 1980s robots break into a chorus of ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ with the warning of impending debt.

The message “Have a Merry January” frames the message in a positive way in Interac’s continuation of the successful “Be in the Black” campaign. A prominent outdoor campaign with some cheeky copy (ex: “Debt is a real nutcracker”) neatly puts a bow on the integrated campaign, although the online-only spots don’t quite strike the same chord.

Interac's OOH media features wittily knit copy.
Interac’s OOH media features wittily knit copy.

As stated by Rob Feightner, Zulu Alpha Kilo’s client services director, “Canadians are being influenced and pressured to spend more and to spend sooner”. This campaign might just play a part in bucking the trend.

#3: Target – “The Holiday Odyssey”

 

We’ve all seen commercials where brands reimagine “The Night Before Christmas” where the product is, in one way or another, the hero. But few of them genuinely embrace the spirit of storytelling in a way that actually entertains.

Target (U.S., obviously) is hoping to bring the magic of animated storybooks to entertain and woo its guests with another major adventure in branded content. Centred on a digital storybook narrated by Neil Patrick Harris, Target and agency 72andSunny have created an immersive “Holiday Odyssey” including five holiday spots.

With Toys R Us already owning “Star Wars destination” status, Target managed to get brands like Minions, Barbie, Ninja Turtles, Lego, My Little Pony and Sesame Street to play in the same toy box and appear in the animations. To say this spot must have gone through many approvals would be a massive understatement, which makes its effectiveness even more impressive.

A great article from Adweek details the full scope of this campaign, which includes a kid-friendly wish list app and a tentpole event with Disney to air “Mary Poppins” on network TV for the first time in over a decade. We’ll have to wait and see if this trove of branded content is the ‘Spoonful of Sugar’ that will make it easy for Target’s guests to swallow the bitter pill of their holiday shopping bills.

#2: Duracell – “Battle for Christmas Morning”

 

The folks at Duracell have smartly featured toys in their holiday ads for many years now, working directly with strategic partner Hasbro since 2012 to show various toys coming alive through the power of their batteries.

With “Battle for Christmas Morning”, Duracell amps it up to a whole new level by bringing the excitement of the Star Wars universe into their commercial through an extended partnership with Disney/Lucasfilm. The production quality delivers in an impressive way that only the direct partnership with Lucas could have yielded.

The casting for the child actors is strong, especially the decision to write a young female Jedi into the script given the lead role Daisy Ridley will play as Rey in the upcoming film.

According to the press release, Duracell is one of the lucky seven global brands selected to participate in the “expansive, historical promotional campaign” to support the December 18th release of “The Force Awakens”. It’s a great alignment for both Duracell and Hasbro, as Star Wars toy sales are expected to bring in close of $2 billion over the last four months of 2015.

If this spot (nearing 9 million YouTube views) can help Duracell become the battery of choice for just a fraction of the electronic Star Wars toys gifted this Christmas, it could mean sales of galactic proportions for the batteries trusted everywhere.

#1: John Lewis – “#ManOnTheMoon”

 

This UK-based department store is well known (and well loved) for their Christmas ads adverts, and they managed to top most expectations this year with their 2015 spot by adam&eveDDB.

“#ManOnTheMoon” captures some of the best qualities associated with the season: the joy of giving, being kind to our neighbours, and the connections made between generations. In what promises to be a continuing trend in advertising, a young girl was written as the ambitious, resourceful protagonist; discovering a literal man on the moon and earnestly searching for a way to connect with him.

The choice of a cover from the Oasis classic ‘Half the World Away’ fits the story’s plot and emotional tone perfectly, with fantastic acting and art direction ensuring the production is truly cinematic. In a year where “The Martian” became a top box office draw, the concept is perfectly timed to make us sympathize with the lonely old man on the moon.

Of course, this is no small production, costing a full £1 million according to The Telegram. But with 15 million YouTube views and counting, John Lewis hardly needed to spend a fortune in paid media to make the investment worthwhile. And while the spot doesn’t prominently feature many brands – or even the retailer itself – the brand clearly has been getting mentioned as this spot propelled the brand to trend on social, not to mention word of mouth.

John Lewis took the concept a small step giant leap further by launching various initiatives related to the ad, all detailed on one impressive #ManOnTheMoon microsite. An app was created to bring a downloadable poster to life. John Lewis is supporting old people and giving guests a number of ways to view and learn more about the moon, including educational resources for children. Visitors can even shop for Man on the Moon products, including those shown in the ad.

Overall, this is a holiday ad to aspire towards and will be hard to dethrone as the best of 2015. After all, Christmas is a time for believing – and this campaign is enough to make anyone a believer; marketers and consumers alike.

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Marketing Players of the Week – Bright Lights Edition

This week we’ve seen a variety of exceptional campaigns introduced, each employing a drastically different tone of communication.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Starbucks

For a multi-billion dollar company that’s existed since 1971 and is widely considered as “high growth”, it’s almost unfathomable to imagine that Starbucks has never created a global ad campaign. But with competition for the Third Place heating up internationally and continued concern that the brand’s ubiquity is a weakness, it appears that it’s now time for a unified rallying cry.

Partnering with up-and-coming California agency 72andSunny, Starbucks compiled 220 hours of footage at 59 retail stores across the globe, all within a single 24 hour window.  “Meet me at Starbucks” is a feel-good message that ultimately “lets the consumer be the hero”, in the words of Tim Nudd at Adweek.

From postcard purists in the Czech Republic to bikers in Denver, the five-minute video celebrates Starbucks as a welcoming meeting place rather than pushing their latest seasonal offerings. From a Canadian’s perspective, it’s the antithesis from what we’ve grown accustomed to from incumbent coffee powerhouse Tim Horton’s.

Watch the full interactive video on YouTube – and keep an eye out for the retro computer-toting Toronto PET Users Group, who set up a network of ’80s-era Commodore hardware right inside their local Starbucks.

By removing product from the equation, “Meet me at Starbucks” allows Starbucks to focus on people and places – two extremely important elements for continued success in an industry with a plethora of choices. The ‘Third Place’ status continues to be a valuable point of difference for the brand, and Starbucks clearly recognizes that this needs to remain at the forefront of their marketing efforts.

GE

General Electric has “become known for its quirky advertising” in recent years, according to Lara O’Reilly in an article for Business Insider. Taking an offbeat approach is a clever way for GE to break through the clutter and spread awareness for some (often) boring household products.

Case in point: the conglomerate which formerly owned NBCUniversal took so much pride for being constantly satirized in ’30 Rock’ that it created ads inspired by the irreverent TV series.

So while it shouldn’t come as a surprise that GE paid Jeff Goldblum to star in a self-aware infomercial parody for their new Link lightbulbs, it’s still quite the shock to see such a level of schlock in tone. And I mean that in the absolute best way possible.

The execution is flawless, and Goldblum is well-cast as the “successful guy” infomercial celebrity. The video far surpasses what a brand would typically conceive for a product like a lightbulb.

Let’s hope GE takes this one step further and takes further inspiration from the recurring infomercial segments on ‘Saturday Night Live’ for their next luxury product launch.

Volvo

Probably the first automotive brand you would associate with the quality of ‘safety’, Volvo benefits from perceived quality of safety features, yet suffers from the flipside of this benefit. This makes it harder to sell on cool technology, vehicle performance, or breakthrough design.

From my personal perspective, Volvo has been (quite literally) my father’s car brand since at least 1998.

But the tide is turning, and Volvo’s recent advertising shows that the brand refuses to play it safe. The ‘Eplit Split’ stunt video with Jean-Claude Van Damme from late 2013 is perfect proof of this.

The new global spot by Grey London employs a cinematic filming technique to capture the spirit of adventure with a surfing heroine taking on the nighttime waves as her Volvo XC60 waits patiently under the moonlight.

Described as “quietly epic” in an article by Adweek, ‘The Swell’ is the beginning of a new chapter in reshaping Volvo’s brand identity. The tagline, “Seek Feeling”, represents a bold new direction more aligned with thrill-seekers than risk-averse soccer moms.

While the automaker will need to step up in backing up this new positioning with appropriately rugged-yet-refined new vehicles (and probably a website redesign), it is apparent that Volvo is not afraid of stepping outside its comfort zone.

What’s the best ad you’ve seen lately? Please share it in the comments below.