By Aaron Goldman, CMO, Mediaocean
When it comes to Christmas ads, I’m no different to you or anyone else in the advertising and marketing industry: a month out from the big day, you’ll find me ready to sneak onto YouTube at a moment’s notice to enjoy (and criticise) the hero creative that brands have built for the biggest shopping peak of the year.
The festive season in the UK has, like the Superbowl in the US, become a moment when inside-industry chat hits a kind of fever pitch. Who’s going to win this year’s head-to-head? Should we be measuring victory in terms of artistry or impact? Which creative agencies are setting out their stalls most effectively? What are the big trends? What does it all signify for the next year of creative thinking? And, most importantly, what will become of Kevin the Carrot?
This conversation is both a lot of fun and, I think, very much worth having. Increasingly, though, our focus on the thirty, sixty and ninety-second spots feels like it might be landing wide of the mark.
The present moment
Which is not, of course, to say that those TV spots are ever the sum total of a campaign. Through the holiday period, brands put any number of different cuts, featuring different products, out over the airwaves, and over the years the creative collateral involved has bloomed to include everything from fifteen second pre-roll ads to six second stories in feeds.
It has always been easy enough, nonetheless, to see these as branches coming down from the main event – that being the hero creative which is (yes) the star on top of the Christmas tree. As media consumption diversifies and a truly omnichannel landscape emerges over the horizon, however, that mindset might be distracting from a reality in which campaigns take many routes to their audience.
In this sense, it feels significant that the festive ad boom is now being plugged into TikTok. This year, M&S used the platform not just as a route for pushing out cuts of the main advert, but for a functionally self-contained activation which drummed up hype by speculating on which celebrity will voice its campaign mascot. Last year, likewise, Pret a Manger became a first mover on TikTok activations amongst UK food brands with its festive ‘#JoyWithPret Challenge’.
This shift raises the question of what good creative really looks like – not to us insiders, but to the consumers it needs to reach.
The Ghost of Christmas Future
For the shopper who latches into a campaign through a TikTok stunt, the message they receive and the experience they have with the brand will not necessarily be simply an echo of the main TV spot. With activation tactics like these, they are suddenly in a much more immersive relationship, and laddering that experience up into a consistent brand promise requires a new type of thinking.
This is especially the case because using these more dynamic channels goes hand-in-hand with personalisation. The granularity of audience data which is available and the real-time feedback that these platforms offer mean that a long-standing workflow of planning, creating, activating and measuring as separate steps is blurring into a more agile process. Not only can campaigns be optimised and reimagined on the fly, but that optimisation can go right down to the individual level.
To put it another way, campaigns in the omnichannel environment might be better thought of, not as branches on a tree, but as snowflakes: a vast range of unique moments with shared characteristics.
The upshot is that the best campaigns of the future, whether at Christmas or not, will need to be understood in terms of the overall experience they offer. That means thinking about how creative flexes to different audiences through different channels – including social-first forms which effectively capture the attentions of the hard-to-reach Gen Z set. It means shortening the journey from engagement to outcome through social shopping and other smart ways of making digital advertising work harder. And it means, most of all, meeting the audience where they are, as linear programming increasingly becomes just one amongst many channels.
Putting this kind of thinking into action as marketers will, of course, demand transformations in how we go about our work. To work effectively with data, we need tools fit for a digitally-native age, and to take full advantage of those tools we will need to move away from that mindset which assumes campaigns have long lead-times and long shelf-lives.
The first step, however, might simply be to shift how we look at and debate about the industry around us – seeing Christmas ads, for example, beyond the thirty, sixty, or ninety-second spot.