Oxfam: 'be humankind' campaign
Oxfam: 'be humankind' campaign
A view from Peppermint Soda

Seasonal ad campaigns: what makes them work?

There's no denying it - Christmas is big business. A recent forecast from Deloitte has predicted the UK will spend £40.3bn this Christmas, including £5bn online.

That's due in no small part to the huge advertising push observed at this time of year. According to Nielsen, retailers will spend around £390m on advertising during the last three months of 2013, pulling out all the stops to get a slice of the festive action.

But, as the Grinch realised in a moment of clarity, Christmas doesn't come from a store... Christmas means a little bit more.

The brains behind the best seasonal ad campaigns know this only too well. It's not enough to promote your great products or prices, as you would at any other time of year – a Christmas campaign needs to offer that little bit more to really work.

The vast majority of great festive campaigns work because they contain an emotional trigger which we associate with the brand, making us spend, spend, spend.


John Lewis has made altruism into an art form. From the hare spreading the joy of Christmas, to the boy who just couldn't wait to give his gift, their ads focus on the pleasure of giving. It's a guiltless pleasure we all want to relate to.

Giving is good, and makes you feel good – so why not give generously this year? It's a format that obviously works, as in 2012 John Lewis took a massive £157.8m in the week before Christmas.


We all dream of a Christmas just like the ones we used to know, so nostalgia is rife in seasonal advertising. This year's Tesco campaign is a perfect example, using grainy old home-video clips of Christmases from a simpler time.

It's a particularly potent formula in the age of austerity, harking back to when families would pull out all the stops for a big banquet.


Subverting Christmas is risky, but can work by surprising people out of their twee stupor. Rebelling against glitzy perfection with a touch of humbug and humour has worked wonderfully for Aldi and Channel 4's alternative Queen's Speech – both brands that have set themselves apart from the norm. This year Harvey Nichols has got in on the action with the 'Sorry, I Spent it on Myself' campaign.


In the digital age, panic is becoming an increasingly common tool in advertising. Social and email marketing are popular vehicles for it, with limited-time-only discount codes – "Order now for Christmas delivery", and "Only XX shopping days until Christmas" – increasing the impetus to purchase.

The US traditions of Black Friday and Cyber Monday have also crossed the pond, as UK retailers try to cash in on the annual panic-buying spree.

Leveraging digital in a seasonal campaign

TV ads may get the most attention, and of course, they're the most emotionally engaging, as they tell a story and include an emotive soundtrack. However, as online sales figures show, digital is playing an increasingly important part in seasonal campaigns. And not only in selling, but in promoting and monitoring a campaign too.

These days, YouTube views and social buzz can be a strong indicator of how a campaign is doing.

With so many consumers now multi-screening, TV and online are more closely related than ever. The best seasonal advertising campaigns are therefore those that are cross-platform, with online, email marketing and social offering a brand experience that seamlessly blends with and compliments an offline campaign.

And of course, whatever the medium, it should appeal to those innately Christmassy emotions in all of us.

Peppermint Soda is a full service PR agency in Manchester, specialising in branding, design, digital and advertising.