09 December 2011
It's Christmas. It's retail's moment. This Christmas will determine who makes it to 2012. And, boy, can you smell the fear.
One way to address the crisis is creativity - to stand out from the crowd, to get noticed, to be different, to zig to the world's zag. John Lewis has done it.
And now, in its own way, so has Waitrose. Like John Lewis, it could be deemed indulgent, opening the doors to its school of magic in a 90-second X Factor TV spot. Waitrose bring us its very own Hogwarts, starring Delia as the headmistress and Heston as the master of the dark arts. Delia shows us how to do some good old-fashioned home-cooking, albeit in kit form, while Heston experiments with pine-flavoured sugar for mince pies. A winning recipe of new ideas that tastes of a quality Christmas. Brave? Maybe not, but bold and different enough to set it apart from its competition.
Sky Movies has done a nice Christmas special this year, celebrating the business it is in: entertainment. Well-crafted, it seamlessly takes us through clips of its Christmas film line-up. The vehicle is a dad on his way home for Christmas, and his journey takes him through various film extracts from Superman to It's A Wonderful Life ... before he gets back to his Christmas-card-perfect family, in time for The Chronicles Of Narnia on the telly. This has been done really well, great film-score track ... all wrapped up with Believe in Better. Which I have always loved. Sky feels like a proper contender for our Christmas viewing.
Carphone Warehouse has its very own version of Narnia. Step inside its store/wardrobe and you're taken to a magical other place, where phones grow on trees. "You always leave with something wonderful," the voiceover says. This is an effort to make Carphone Warehouse feel like a special Christmas destination. Would you notice it? Does it stand out? The answer would probably be no if it wasn't for the choice of voiceover, which is quirky and something kind of wonderful in itself. It might just get you to look up from your eggnog.
Freesat has none of the filmic craft of Sky. Probably because it's all about giving us what we want. Basic satellite TV, no gloss, no glamour, no style. A salesman knocks on the door of a satellite/space station, trying to flog a load of bells and whistles. He is unceremoniously ejected down its back passage. You see, Freesat is telly made easy. Feels to me a bit like telly without the entertainment. I'm Believing in Better, you see.
The Range is a place where you can get everything you want for Christmas. So vast is the range on offer that the brand finds it easier to show us what it doesn't have ... in this case, a singing reindeer sweater. We are then taken on a flying visit of what it does have. It's so fast that I can only remember the singing reindeer jumper that it doesn't sell ... which I now want. Does anyone know where I can get one?
Anti-Slavery International has launched an idea that involves the profile of a woman on Facebook. She has no friends. Through the pictures and messages she posts, we piece together the horrors of her life as a housekeeper for a family that mistreats her. Modern-day slavery. The idea is to become her friend and, in doing so, share hers and thousands of others' plight. I hope it works. It is a sobering thought, a good message to be able to cut through all the Christmas cheer being promoted by so many advertisers, and yet it lacks punch. It feels lazy.
So are we being brave? Is creativity winning in the retailers war? Judging by this lot,no. But the examples that do shine brightly. It is a very brave brand that plays it safe this year.
Although I'm still relatively new to working on the agency side, I've decided that making advertising for clients is a bit like managing the England team.
And no, it's not because everyone thinks they could do a better job (which, invariably, they do). It's because the concept of "added value" applies equally to both scenarios. As national coach, you can't go out and buy a new squad of players. You have to make the best use of the talent at your disposal and add value through the interventions you make. The same is true of advertising. Some brands have inherently stronger propositions. The trick is to add as much value as possible - to show the underlying brand promise as positively as possible. So how does this week's crop of ads fare on added value?
First up is Waitrose with its Christmas ad. A tough gig. Grocery retail is a highly competitive arena where genuine differentiation is hard. Add to that the annual desire of retailers to show they have more Christmas cheer than most, and you're left with a lot of generic noise. With its foodie credentials and the "dream team" of Heston and Delia, Waitrose is better-placed than most but, for me, this ad fails to excite. It's well-made, but feels like it's caught between the two stools of advertising and programming. The idea of creating "destination products" (such as pine-sugar dusting) is a nice touch, but this rates as only "slightly above average" on added value, lacking the impact to really cut through in the heavy traffic of Christmas retail ads.
Continuing the Christmas theme is Sky Movies, with a showcase of its film schedule for the festive season. As brand startpoints go, what's not to like? A genuinely high-interest "category" with loads of sparkly content at your disposal. Easy. Except I suspect to add value over simply "showing" the brand is actually quite hard. But this ad pulls it off. While I feel like I've seen the construct before, it's well-made, has a nice narrative that pulls the viewer along and positions Sky Movies as a curator rather than simply a broadcaster.
Another heavily contested market is that of mobile phones. It's a sector that's prone to technical jargon and information-heavy advertising. So another tough job to get communications to raise the game of the core brand promise. In this ad, Carphone Warehouse is definitely having a go. As a viewer, I welcome its attempts to make the whole thing more interesting and inviting, but I feel like I've seen it all before.
In contrast, before seeing this ad, I'd never heard of The Range. Therefore, from an "added value" point of view, it's all upside for me. As a retailer that stocks 65,000 products (so the ad informs me), it's the kind of brand that "does what it says on the tin". This no-nonsense style is reflected in its advertising, which succeeds in telling me what it does, but in a quirky rather than shouty way.
The Freesat ad is one of those ads that uses most of the time to show what the brand is not - in this case, those pushy subscription-based TV companies, personified as a pushy door-to-door salesman. It's not bad, but the trouble is I think my abiding memory of this ad will be what the brand is not.
And so, finally, to Anti-Slavery International. Most charities benefit from being inherently emotive. Therefore, the "added value" of advertising comes from evoking a relevant emotion strongly enough to get people to do something. Easy. The juxtaposition of "chatty" Facebook with an issue as serious as slavery is a bold creative move but, for me, it doesn't work. Rather than evoking a strong emotion, the Facebook visuals and bland music made me tune out well before the end.
So, all in all, probably more Steve McClaren than Sir Alf Ramsey.