The power of Christmas Ads (‘A closer look at… Christmas’)

BABY Jesus secretly hopes the three wise men kept their gift receipts.  I mean seriously: gold, frankincense and myrrh – what the hell is a baby supposed to do with those? Adhering to social protocol he feigns appreciation with an angelic smile; but the three weary travellers can sense he’s obviously disappointed with his misguided gifts and they are dismayed – the overly sentimental Christmas advert made those presents look so attractive. They weren’t quite sure what it was advertising but the appeal was there. Really, the new-born king just wanted the 7 foot stuffed elephant from Hamleys.

Let’s face it, the Nativity Story of the 21st century would read something like that.  What used to be something synonymous with Christianity has now become so consumer-orientated that it wouldn’t surprise me if the current generation of kids didn’t even know Christmas was actually a religious festival.  Although, I’m not criticising. I love Christmas in the 21st century.  It’s inevitable that the meaning of Christmas will change and adapt to fit the society and people celebrating it.  Jesus has been replaced by Santa; gold, frankincense and myrrh with iPads, gift vouchers and Call of Duty.  Spending money has always been part of the Christmas ‘spirit’, but now it’s more lavish than ever with the average Christmas budget to be £600 this year.

It would seem that the spending frenzy is a consequence of a wider phenomenon which has swept the pre-Christmas build up and pervades our TV screens in-between the X-Factor.  I’m talking about the advertising.  I’m sure you will have noticed it by now.  There is no escape.  Most of the adverts are dull and uninspired, leaving viewers with a similar sensation to they get after a Christmas-cracker joke. However, over the past few years one store’s adverts really stand out: the John Lewis ads.

Typically a sequence of scenes following individuals as they procure gifts for family and friends in the anticipation of Christmas; always backed by an acoustic version of a well know, emotionally-charged ballad.  You may remember last year’s which followed the story of a boy desperate for Christmas with the twist that he wanted presents, not for himself, but to give to give to his parents. It received over 4 million YouTube views and this year the high-street department store is aiming to do the same with their advert entitled ‘The Journey’.  This one sees a personified snowman risk life and limb on a treacherous journey to the city to fetch his female companion a gift.  The emotion is intense as always and the mystical cover of ‘The Power of Love’ makes a tear-jerking watch.  But with £6 million spent on this one ad, we have to ask ourselves just how effective it actually is. Sure, we feel something for the poor snowman: climbing mountains; crossing rivers and motorways; caught in the crossfire of a snowball fight – there is something about his journey, his determination and his happy ending that we can empathise with.  But does his ‘journey’ really make us want to spend money at John Lewis? It’s either marketing at its best or we’re just suckers for a good story.

Whatever it is, the adverts are to be enjoyed accordingly: they won’t resonate with everyone and most people find them hit-and-miss.  Their emotional appeal is just a marketing technique to reflect the sentimentality associated with the Christmas spirit. What’s more, the idea that Christmas is now just ‘all about the money’ is only a problem when people begin to get greedy; but there’s nothing wrong with buying gifts for your family and friends – and it’s always special when it’s reciprocal.  But the fuss over presents and money can make Christmas stressful for some people and they are anxious rather than excited for the big day.  Christmas has become so inflated by all the hype that it’s not clear any more what it really means today.  In some sense, the build up to big day is more exciting than the day itself. For me, though, Christmas is a time of year to appreciate the little things.  The glistening lights in the city centre; the rush and bustle of last minute shopping; the still, icy landscapes; the family traditions like going to the cinema on Christmas Eve; and most of all, those damn ads – they give me misty eyes every year!

Words: Chris Park, Picture: Melissa Reid
(Published December 2012)