If You’re Not Watching British Brands Try to Win Christmas, Are You Even Celebrating?

Blog British Xmas

Seriously, the storytelling is fire

It’s far too easy here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. to forget that the rest of the world does things – including holidays and advertising – differently. Sometimes better. If you’re not familiar with the British tradition of high-production (bordering on cult following) holiday commercials, ’tis the season to school yourself. And delight in the riveting, empathy-driven ads that captivate millions of viewers across the pond.

Just how big of a deal are these ads?

First of all, they are called adverts in the U.K. – two countries separated by a common language, my friends. What we’re not separated by, apparently, is our willingness to pay a crap-ton of money to promote a brand and get swept up in the mania that ensues. Sound familiar? It should, if you’ve ever, you know, heard of the Super Bowl. In 2017, British brands dropped $7.6 billion on holiday ads, which was money well spent with a shocking 47 percent of people admitting they were moved to tears by Christmas ads and 16 percent confessing they have even changed their plans to avoid missing the premiere of a brand’s Christmas advert. And I don’t have stats on it, but it’s pretty much an unspoken rule that the holiday season officially kicks off in England when the John Lewis commercial first airs.

Why John Lewis?    

British retailer John Lewis is credited with starting this phenomenon (with, ahem, a little help from its agency adam&eveDDB). Although the brand started embracing storytelling several years earlier, in 2011, it released “The Long Wait,” a full two-minute advert that nailed the format that has come define the British Christmas spot: emotional narrative driven by adorable children and/or animals set to a sleepy remake of a recognizable pop or rock song. Cue the tears.

And sales. The formula works. Last year, John Lewis spent $9.2 million on its holiday campaign and saw a 36 percent sales increase year over year in the week before Christmas. With that kind of success, it’s not surprising everyone followed suit. OK, so enough backstory already! Let’s all watch some sappy commercials and cry into our coffee (or tea, if you’re feeling especially British while you watch.) Here are our top picks for 2018:

John Lewis: “The Boy and the Piano”



Why we chose it: Because John Lewis. And Elton freaking John. Duh.

Sainsbury’s: “The Big Night”

Why we chose it: A squeaky microphone, ridiculous school pageant costumes, that 90s one-hit wonder New Radicals song and a self-conscious little girl who transforms into a queen onstage while her proud mama watches? So much yes.

Heathrow: “The Heathrow Bears”

Why we chose it: You’ll have to do your YouTube homework and watch the previous years’ spots to truly appreciate this one, but the London airport created this lovable senior citizen bear couple in 2016 and has released ads each year that tell their story with a subtle nod to the way airports help unite families for the holidays. Nice.

Iceland: “Say hello to Rang-tan”

Why we chose it: Right, this is where things get real. This supermarket chain used its ad spend to raise awareness of the devastating effects palm oil plantations have on animals and their environments. And it did so with a charming animation and a voiceover from the hugely talented Emma Thompson.

Waitrose: “Fast Forward”

Why we chose it: Bringing us full circle, this advert actually pokes fun at the sentimentality of the the John Lewis ads… using the most current John Lewis ad. And they aren’t even competitors! It’s quite bold nonetheless – and terribly clever.

Pretty impressive storytelling, amirite? And what’s perhaps even more impressive is the warm reception these ads receive given our British pals’ typical tendencies toward dry humor and deep-seated cynicism. Maybe the magic of Christmas is real after all…

Need a little help upping your storytelling game? Get in touch!    

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