Christmas ads are viral events - but do they work?
A view from Danny Rogers

Christmas ads are viral events - but do they work?

A week on from the first seeding of the John Lewis Christmas campaign, here are the latest figures from its creators: more than five million views on YouTube; the soundtrack at number one in the singles download chart; and the client's own social media sentiment tracker shows 92 per cent positive comment on the campaign.

So whether you like or loathe the ad – and traditional media voices have been split – there’s little doubt that John Lewis’ 2013 effort is making sufficient noise.

The good news for television is that this is just one element of a healthy-looking run-up to Christmas for the big creative shops and commercial TV broadcasters. This week, we have seen ambitious campaign launches from Tesco (Wieden & Kennedy), Asda (VCCP) and, particularly, Sainsbury’s (Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO). Classic spots such as The X Factor and Coronation Street are trading well up on last year. And with the retailers investing an increasing amount on integrated and sophisticated Facebook and YouTube drives, the social media owners are happy too.

There is a noticeable shift this year to the point where traditional media spend looks like the fuel for online interaction

Indeed, there is a noticeable shift this year to the point where traditional media spend looks increasingly like the fuel for online interaction. In Sainsbury’s case, AMV is hoping for "millions" of YouTube views for its "Christmas in a day" film. This is a huge leap of faith in second-screening.

The bigger question is: will much of this abundant, crowd-sourced advertising actually work? Specifically, will the outlay (often tens of millions of pounds) return enough profit to keep the C-suite sitting pretty in the longer term?

Sceptics abound. Many question the growing chasm between the largesse of these campaigns and the measurement tools applied to their success.

To be fair, some are well-justified. This summer, the John Lewis marketing director, Craig Inglis, left Cannes holding a Creative Effectiveness Lion for previous campaigns. This was down to the company’s econometrics, which claimed that, for each £1 spent on marketing, £5 was derived in profit.

Nevertheless, the most brutal measure of effectiveness for retailers will always be the annual year-on-year sales figures presented to analysts in mid-January. The hard reality is that even John Lewis has set itself a difficult target to beat. And the wider problem is that, sadly, not every retailer can be a winner.

Behind these big, emotional campaigns, this is ultimately a dog-eat-dog (bear-eat-hare?) retail fight. A lot of money has been spent (thankfully) and months of worthy effort invested but, come January, inevitably there will be some blood left in the snow.