Christmas is over, the blockbuster ads are behind us and the trading numbers are out for most of the big retailers.

The UK’s largest retailers spend a huge amount on advertising every Christmas.

In recent years we’ve had the emergence of the blockbuster ad, taking us through a story that leads us by the hand into the spirit of Christmas.

But how effective are these expensive ads at creating a mood that encourages customers to buy?

Some quick analysis suggests that despite their sentimental tone and huge production budgets, the ads in isolation do little to reliably direct the shopper through a retailer’s doors.

Looking at the first tranche of numbers that have been issued in the first week of January there’s not much of a commercial case for a didactic narrative about the spirit of Christmas, however good the ad is.

The ones that really work, from the looks of it, are the ones that combine advertising with some serious investment in PR and experiential activity. Sticking to old-fashioned broadcast blockbusters doesn’t sell the mustard.

Look at Aldi’s and Lidl’s performance

Both pulled a PR blinder with their pop-up restaurants designed to change perceptions of the quality of their ranges.

And they certainly did that.

Looking at some of the other ad-only strategies (which they ARE whatever they might claim about a hashtag here or a ‘social engagement strategy’ there), it’s hard to see that they’ve really given any sort of decent ROI.

The fact is that we’re active participants in narrative now. We like our stories to be more interactive and malleable. The language of PR, in its ability to provoke and inspire and respond, is a far more powerful weapon in the arsenal of a pre-Christmas marketer than a preachy ad will ever be.

Of course there are huge vested interests that would dispute this claim. They’re the same people who over organic goatsmilk skinny lattes and pomegranate jewel encrusted danishes will be producing the graph to their clients at the post-Christmas ad wrap-up meeting that shows that “17% of the engaged audience would have been 83% less likely to shop with you, oh payer of our astrobills, if it hadn’t been for the cute kid with snowflakes that we peppered the Christmas TV schedule with.”

The funny thing is that that sounds a bit like the old-school language of PR.

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