Having now viewed these films from two iconic British retailers, I can report that we are seeing the return of the traditional Christmas for 2013 – well, at least on ITV.
M&S uses Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, David Gandy and Helena Bonham Carter (yes, it helps to be double-barrelled) dressing up in scenes from Alice In Wonderland and Aladdin. Unfortunately, I’m not allowed to tell you about John Lewis yet or the PRs will take out (another) contract on me. But, needless to say, you’ll be humming the tune, glistening-eyed again by Sunday night. Both campaigns take comfort in tried and tested stories; in warm, reassuring imagery.
We all prefer a dash of nostalgia and fantasy. We don’t want to be told what the festive season is actually like
One explanation is that this is a natural reaction to the disastrous approach of Asda and Morrisons last year, whose harder, realistic portrayals of the modern family Christmases were slammed.
More likely, clients are still acting conservatively at a time when consumer confidence remains delicate.
After all, 40 per cent of some retailers’ annual revenue can derive from the next two months. In M&S’s case, the chief executive, Marc Bolland, finds himself in the last-chance saloon to turn around his struggling women’s clothing.
And maybe when it comes to Christmas, we all prefer a dash of nostalgia and fantasy anyway. We don’t want to be told what the festive season is actually like. Indeed, both M&S and Debenhams’ new efforts employ female models doing a fair bit of prancing around in their smalls – about as edgy as it gets these days.
More shocking is how much effort and money still goes into these long-planned (often almost a whole year) and highly expensive TV campaigns in an age when marketers are supposed to be so sophisticated and interweb-focused. Let’s not forget that some of the single TV spots snapped up by these retail brands cost hundreds of thousands of pounds – enough to pay for a Shoreditch social shop all year round.
To be fair, John Lewis, in particular, will be making this concept work hard right through the line, and in-store.
But, on the whole, it’s down to that inherent British conservatism. And our very traditional marketing directors and CEOs. Oh, and the fact that advertising, despite the digital revolution, will always be essentially about fame.