Is Christmas the perfect time to consider brand positioning?

From John Lewis, Waitrose & Partners to Iceland, we review this year’s Christmas adverts to see if our perceptions of each brand align with how they have positioned themselves in their Christmas adverts 2018.

Christmas is here! Well it isn’t, but the adverts say it is which means we must all sit up, pay attention and more importantly – start spending our hard-earned cash!

Over the past 5-10 years, Christmas advertising has become less about the pushing of sales and discounted products, and more about creating a lasting impression of the brand. The John Lewis Christmas advert has paved the way, becoming the most hotly anticipated event of the season – to the point where my mum and dad (who despise advertising every other day of the year) will always be the first to shout, “it’s on!”

For every other day of the year, they’re not paying attention to TV ads – so why Christmas? And it’s not just my mum and dad… working for a creative agency, you can’t really get away from the Christmas ad chat but I feel like you could walk into any pub in London and say “So what do you think of the Christmas ads this year?” and you would 100% be sat with Dave from Margate for an hour and half whilst he waxes lyrical about John Lewis 2011 being his favourite.

I wonder if part of this love/hate for Christmas ads has come from the consumer taking back some power – knowing that these ads are calculated to the nth degree… and it’s all for them. Brands are spending millions of pounds to win over their target audience – to leave a unique impression.

Brand positioning describes the process whereby we differentiate our product or service within the market. It’s there to establish a ‘position’ in the consumer’s mind so that we resonate with them in a unique and meaningful way. Positioning helps us to define what we want to stand for and how we want to be represented in the mind of our consumer; knowing what they want, what our capabilities are and what our competitors’ positioning is.

I had a bit of fun in the office this week, chatting about the dozens of Christmas ads to see if they met our expectations and if our perceptions of a brand align with how they have positioned themselves in their Christmas advert.

Christmas adverts 2018: John Lewis & Partners

First up, the big boy – John Lewis – “The boy and the piano”.

I’m going to be honest, I was hoping John Lewis would shake things up this Christmas after the year-on-year ‘cute’ formula – cute kid, cute animation and they certainly did – cute Elton? Maybe not. The ad has certainly had mixed reviews – I’m not ‘missing’ the cuteness because there is definitely a sentimental, heart-warming story at the core of the ad. For me, this message is masked by the sense of commercialism and prosperity that comes with hiring a huge star like Elton John. Particularly as it’s so blatantly timed with his biopic coming out next year, and don’t get us started on the merch. The ad didn’t resonate with me like others in the past have – it did leave a lasting impression, but one of isolation. It became clear very quickly that I was not John Lewis’ target audience this year and this ad was not made for me and my family – they made a deliberate decision to target an older, affluent audience and not the masses. I’ll let Lidl have the last word…

Christmas adverts 2018: Waitrose & Partners

Whilst we’re on the subject of ‘throwing shade’ – let’s talk about Waitrose. Their third instalment of their Christmassy “too good to wait” ad see a family fast-forwarding through the John Lewis ad – with the recent rebrand of John Lewis and Waitrose Partners this is a really interesting way for the two brands to reinforce their allegiance with one another. The ad is just on the cusp of exclusivity and smugness, but we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and let it fall into the camp of clever and witty.

Christmas adverts 2018: M&S

In 2016 M&S delivered what was probably one of my favourite Christmas ads – an incredibly magical, warming and powerful ad telling the story of a little boy writing his letter to Mrs Claus. It’s empowering, intelligent and for me personally, is a perfect representation of M&S as a brand. Dependable, high-quality and aspirational. This year, I feel like they’ve lost their way a little – their ‘Must-Haves’ ad is an attempt at a ‘modern’ (potentially contrived) representation of Christmas, focusing on their products and enlisting the star-power of Holly Willoughby to tick the ‘current influencer’ box. For us here in the office, we miss the twinkly magic and nostalgia of the storytelling of M&S that we know and love. We want them to paint the picture of Christmas for us and actually what we’ve got is an ad which could’ve run at any time of year. Is this the start of a shift in M&S’s position to push product sales over connecting with consumers?

Christmas adverts 2018: Iceland

Finally, it’s time to mention the shock entry this year – a brand who would never normally sit comfortably next to John Lewis or M&S in the Christmas ad stakes but has created a position for itself – Iceland. They told the story of Rang-tan, bringing to life the devasting impacts of deforestation – the TV ad being banned only helping to bring the story to people’s attention in a wonderfully subversive way. The story became the people’s to tell through social and positioned Iceland as a brand willing and committed to raising awareness of palm oil – following through by committing to remove all palm oil products from their stores. The ad has really challenged consumer perception of the Iceland brand; from a low-end, cheap, frozen food store to one which our normal M&S and Waitrose shoppers will genuinely be shopping in this weekend! Could this potential repositioning of the brand see perceptions continue to change in 2019? I’ll be keeping my eyes open!

This year more than ever, I feel that people are paying attention to the ads – let’s use the opportunity as advertisers to stand for something, whether that’s cementing your position in the market or with the consumer or challenging the status quo. Don’t be afraid to use this platform and the opportunities it brings to leave a lasting impression on your target audience and amplify your voice as a brand.

Copyright: Image courtesy of John Lewis & Partners