On the Campaign couch: Why are we obsessing over Christmas ads?
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: Why are we obsessing over Christmas ads?

Is the media obsession over Christmas ads good for the industry?

I’m not sure that the media are obsessed with all Christmas ads. I suspect you mean those annual multimillion-pound department-store extravaganzas. I find them utterly fascinating and often wonder how their budgets are approved (presumably some time in early February) and how they’re evaluated (presumably some time in early January). There must, surely, be a few independent directors, anxious as always to demonstrate their forensic intelligence – and to justify their stipends – in front of the board. 

"I’m the first to concede, chairman, that ads are hardly my forte but I assume that even this so-called pro-fession is occasionally required to account for its activities in terms of return on investment? Would the marketing director be so kind as to enlighten those poor accountants among us as to the real-world benefit of what to some of us might seem little more than extravagant exercises in so-called creativity for its own sake?"

I imagine that, by now, all the big houses have assembled all the evidence they need to demonstrate that, for every £1 million spent on production and transmission, these seasonal epics deliver an incremental £53 million to the bottom line. If they haven’t, they should have done: it can’t be difficult. But, for me, I don’t care.

These Christmas commercials aren’t like conventional commercials and aren’t expected to perform like conventional commercials. They are the direct descendants of Santa’s grotto and should be funded from the same seasonal budget as Santa’s grotto.

Does anyone not remember, at the age of six-and-a-half, standing wide-eyed and wonder-struck, gazing first at those fairytale windows; then walking through the labyrinthine aisles, staircases and escalators of a snow-strewn castle, where every silver tree bore parcels: square parcels and oblong parcels and parcels like giant Smartie tubes, all wrapped with wonderland paper and ribbons whose bows teased little fingers with their invitation. And Jingle Bells played and reindeer pranced and Santa sat and the smell of mince pies invaded the senses.

This was how a drab multistorey building called Dickins & Jones became Aladdin’s cave – and imbued its contents with other-worldly wonderment. And this is what, a few decades on, the best Christmas commercials can do, but on an even grander scale. 

They are productions. The media are right to treat them as productions and to review them as productions. Their value to their sponsors is almost certainly, in both senses of the word, inestimable. And, as with Super Bowl ads, they bring credit to our trade. 

I’m just very glad that I don’t have to think of an even better one every year.

Do those lavish Christmas commercials have anything to teach us for the rest of the year?
Yes, lots. Marketing experts argue about the need for brand differentiation and how to achieve it. Andrew Ehrenberg says: "Luckily, brands do not have to appear different to the consumer in order to be chosen." That’s demonstrably true. And it’s also true that functional differences of performance tend to be both trivial and temporary. 

But what the Christmas ads remind us is that certain brands can be almost reckless in the imagery they adopt, in the clothes they choose to wear. In certain sectors, brand personalities can be far less cautious, far less responsible, far more fanciful and far more extreme than custom, convention (and the wrong kind of research) would lead us to believe. And the wonderful bonus of a Unique Seductive Personality is that you don’t have to patent it and nobody can nick it. 

I’m in the middle of holding an agency contest for my account and I’m wondering whether it would be acceptable to have pitches in the first week of the new year. Do you think I might ruin Christmas for my shortlisted agencies?
If that’s what you have in mind, you’ve every chance of achieving it. Alternatively, as a New Year’s resolution, try loving your agencies. Once they’ve recovered from the surprise, you’ll be astonished at the service you get. 

I’m the chief executive of an agency and planning to take a month off over Christmas to visit family in Australia. Am I setting a bad example?
Some people quite like Australia.