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Christmas ads have become a battle ground for brands. Here, we let two festive ads by Very and Argos battle it out to see which steals the Christmas crown.
Christmas ads have become a bit of a thing for brands – and for viewers, too. Each year we wait eagerly for the ads to air to see which brand has done it biggest and best – and who’s produced the most Christmassy feels. Many are a testament to good consumer testing.
In fact, these annual commercials have morphed into mini-movies with blockbuster budgets. This year’s John Lewis/Waitrose Christmas campaign, which tells the story of little dragon ‘Excitable Edgar’, reportedly cost a massive £7 million to make.
Brands will spend a total of £6.8 billion advertising in the UK this Christmas. But is it money well spent? We wanted to find out if festive-themed ads help consumers get in the Christmas spirit. And if they make a difference when it comes to deciding where they’ll do their Christmas shopping.
For a festive edition of your creative spotlight series, we selected Christmas ads by retailers Argos and Very.co.uk and asked 250 UK consumers for their opinions of each. But before we see what they thought, let’s hear a little more about the ads from the creatives who made them…
Rather than take a trip back to Dickensian times as the big supermarkets have done this year, Argos’s Christmas ad takes inspiration from the 1980s. A dad and daughter play along to the 1985 Simple Minds’ hit ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ on a junior drum kit the girl had circled in the Argos catalogue.
As their drumming reaches a crescendo, the family’s kitchen transforms into a stage, complete with cheering audience. Speaking to Campaign, Head of Marketing Communications for Argos, Dan Elton, said that circling desired gifts in the Argos catalogue was “almost like the starting gun to Christmas” for many families.
He added that this had been a time-honoured tradition since the catalogues were first published in the 1970s. To capture this nostalgia, the brand has published an online library of Argos catalogues through the decades. The campaign also includes a social campaign in which Argos presents personalised catalogues to celebrities including Bill Bailey, who coined the term “laminated book of dreams”.
Very.co.uk reminds us that Christmas is a time for generosity and inclusivity with a sweet animation that features neighbours putting together a special gift for an old man who lives alone.
The ad, set to a choral rendition of ‘Feel The Love’ by Rudimental, features animated characters seen in previous Very campaigns, as well as the brand’s signature glowing pink gift box. It finishes up with the community celebrating Christmas with the old man at his house.
Andrew Roscoe, Head of Brand at Shop Direct, which operates Very, told Marketing Communication News that the ad’s community spirit was inspired by The Social Singing Choir, the group which recorded the soundtrack.
“The Social Singing Choir are the real life embodiment of that community and they each have personal stories why being part of the choir is important to them,” he said. “We believe you get more out of giving, and this powerful message is especially important at this time of year.”
We asked people to give the ads a star rating out of five according to how much they liked them. While both performed well, Very beat Argos by scoring almost four stars to Argos’s 3.74 stars (weighted average score).
There was a lot of love for Very’s advert, with more than 35% of people scoring it five stars. Argos didn’t succeed in winning as many fans – only 24.8% rated it the full five stars (that’s a difference of more than 10%).
We showed people a list of eight traits – four positive and four negative – and asked them to choose any they would use to describe the ad they’d just seen. Argos received 5.6% more positive sentiment than Very (174.4% versus 168.8%), but it also got 2.4% more negative sentiment (30.8% versus 28.4%). This left Argos with a 3.2% lead on Very, making it the winner in this category.
The top trait chosen for Argos’s ‘Book of Dreams’ was ‘fun’, chosen by nearly 67% of respondents. Meanwhile, nearly 70% of people thought Very’s ‘Pass the parcel’ ad was ‘heartwarming’.
Argos’s ad was deemed to be more original than Very’s (34.4% versus 26.9%) but Very’s was more inspiring (39.8% versus 34.4%).
A true test of a Christmas ad has got to be how Christmassy it makes you feel. We asked people to tell us how festive they felt after watching Very’s and Argos’s adverts and Very was the clear winner.
Nearly 87% of people said they felt either ‘festive’ or ‘very festive’ after seeing the pink gift box being given to the elderly man, while the dad and daughter drumming duo only invoked Christmassy feelings in 65.7% of people.
What’s more, 7.2% of viewers were made to feel ‘unfestive’ by the Argos ad; this is in comparison to only 1.6% of people who said the same about Very’s ad. A further 27% of people were unmoved by the Argos ad in terms of Christmas spirit, versus 11.6% of people who felt neutral about Very’s ad.
And now for the million-pound question (or £7m in John Lewis’s case) – do either of these adverts make consumers more likely to shop with these brands at Christmas?
The answer is ‘yes’! Both ads score highly for purchase intent, but Very is 8% ahead of Argos, with 59.2% of viewers saying they are (either slightly or much) more likely to buy. Argos still did well, with more than half (51.2%) of people who watched the brand’s ad saying they were more likely to shop there.
There was very little decline in purchase intent for both brands – only 3.2% of Very ad viewers and 2% of Argos ad viewers are now less likely to shop with them during December.
The Christmas crown goes to Very, which emerged victorious in three categories, while Argos only won one. The result goes to show the importance of creating emotion in Christmas ads. Argos’s ‘Book of Dreams’ ad might have been lively and fun, but it didn’t pull on the heartstrings in the same way that Very’s ‘Pass the Parcel’ did.
Although we know brands play on our emotions so that we part with our money, it doesn’t make the tactic any less effective. And while some people might find Very’s storyline a little contrived, it still manages to inspire and – ultimately – induce that all-important Christmas spirit.
* An exclusive, nationally representative sample of working age consumers was surveyed for each ad. The surveys were carried out in December 2019.
Complete guide to creative testing
Does your ad get the right message across? Consumer testing can give you confidence in your creative. Here’s how.
Senior Content Writer
Bel has a background in newspaper and magazine journalism but loves to geek-out with Attest consumer data to write in-depth reports. Inherently nosy, she's endlessly excited to pose questions to Attest's audience of 125 million global consumers. She also likes cake.
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