It's not so easy doing a good turn at Christmas time
A view from Maisie McCabe

It's not so easy doing a good turn at Christmas time

If you have just arrived on Planet Earth from space - the moon, let's say - it must be difficult to understand the furore over ads celebrating a holiday that doesn't take place for another seven weeks.

Every year, it feels as though the onslaught starts earlier, yet a quick search of Campaignlive.co.uk tells me that last year’s John Lewis ad was launched on the same Friday this year’s arrived.

I have never been particularly organised ahead of Christmas – although I have progressed from buying presents on Christmas Eve to finishing shopping with a couple of days to spare. But it is important for brands to build their association with gifting and Christmas well in advance to be front of mind when the time finally comes.

Sainsbury’s waits until after Remembrance Day before unleashing its offering on the world out of respect for its relationship with The Royal British Legion. This inspired last year’s recreation of the apocryphal Christmas Day football match between the opposing sides in the First World War.

The film prompted cries of exploitation when it was released. Some people felt uncomfortable about Sainsbury’s seemingly trying to sell turkeys and Quality Street on the back of 100 years of pain and sacrifice on the part of our armed forces. But the supermarket’s relationship with The Royal British Legion is long-running and the old-fashioned chocolate bars raised £500,000. 

On Friday, John Lewis unveiled its offering for Christmas 2015. The spot features an old man who lives on the moon (frustratingly for me, Adam & Eve/DDB denied this was the chosen theme when I put it to the agency two months ago). And despite it culminating in someone being given a Christmas present they will not forget, I do think it strikes a (slightly) different chord to previous ads. 

As you all know by now, a girl sends the old man a telescope for Christmas so he can watch events on Earth, as she looks up to him pottering on the moon. The tone of the spot is sadder than previous efforts, and has been criticised for that, but it raises the real issue of loneliness among older people, particularly at that time of year. It has made many people cry but caused others to bitch, either about better ads or more complex pay-offs.

John Lewis has linked up with Age UK for the campaign and will sell branded products including mugs and cards to raise money for the charity. The partnership will also involve holding events for older people as well as training sessions. We shall see if the tie-up makes an actual difference to attitudes or Age UK’s coffers as time progresses. 

It’s easy to criticise Sainsbury’s and John Lewis for trying to do good as well as flog stuff, but isn’t that what brands are supposed to do these days? It’s heartening to see some giving it a go.

maisie.mccabe@haymarket.com           
@maisiemccabe