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A Time to Dream: Why We Love Christmas Ads

Posted Wednesday 09 Nov 2016 in Industry News by Ann Nguyen

'Holidays are coming, holidays are coming…'. Unless you're the proverbial Christmas Scrooge or have lived under a rock for the past two decades, our opening gambit will already have you humming Coca-Cola's festive tune.

Even if you're the most ardent advert hater in the world, Christmas commercials always stir up a certain amount of nostalgia and affection. Whether it's because the ad conjures up a childhood memory or you live for the romanticised image of a white Christmas, festive adverts seem to give us a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

In fact, according to childhood psychologist Dr Caroline Schuster, our love of Christmas adverts isn't by accident. Aside from the holiday season being a joyous time of year, major companies have teams of psychologists working alongside ad executives to craft the perfect ad. 

Much like Santa's elves beavering away in the North Pole, these psychologists ensure a company's campaign takes us back to a pleasurable point in our childhood.

Nostalgia + Childhood = A Winning Combination

Talking to The Debrief, Schuster said that marketing departments will create adverts "based around family and children" in order to highlight "basic values" that ring true with our inner emotions. In simple terms, the more an advert can make us feel like a child and forget the stresses of adult life, the more popular it will be.

Pointing to the famous John Lewis advert featuring a penguin-obsessed little boy (see video above), Schuster explained that it was designed to appeal to our "near-universal values" surrounding the idea of spending time with loved ones and family.

When you compare this advert with the equally famous Coca-Cola Christmas truck advert (see video below), you can see the same message bursting through. As the neon-clad truck weaves its way along the snow covered roads, families gather at the side of the road in unison to share in a common experience.

A Time for Coming Together

This coming together is almost unique to the festive period and that's something John Lennon was at pains to point out in his 1972 hit So this is Christmas. Aside from his political message (i.e. to stop wars), Lennon outlined how the holiday period brings people together.

"And so this is Christmas/I hope you have fun/The near and the dear ones/The old and the young. And so this is Christmas/For weak and for strong/For rich and the poor ones"

This message is not only one that runs through the marketing efforts of John Lewis and Coca-Cola, but almost every Christmas advert ever made. Of course, it's not always sweetness and nice that wins the day. As M&C Saatchi's CEO Tom Bazeley has pointed out, satirical twists on the themes of childhood and family can also work extremely well.

It's Not Always Sweetness and Nice

When asked by the Guardian to name his favourite Xmas ad, Bazeley opted for a perfectly pitched effort from Irn Bru (see video above). Using the now clichéd Snowman animations and song, the fizzy drink giant put its tongue firmly in its cheek and slapped some of the saccharin out of the genre with a witty parody. Starting off in the traditional way, the story of a young boy, his Irn Bru and a magical snowman soon descends into darkness as the snowman lets go of his passenger and makes off with the drink.

Subverting our expectations and adding a touch of dark humour to the classic cartoon not only raised a few wry smiles, but helped Irn Bru standout in a sea of similar looking ads. However, if we leave aside the value of parody, the overriding message from our favourite Christmas adverts is one of love, peace and family. Appealing to the innocent, rose-tinted view of the world we once held as children is a cunning strategy by marketing experts. In fact, it's such an effective one that we don't even care if it's playing on our emotions.

As adults, we know the world - and particularly Christmas - isn't always as happy and wonderful as it seemed when we were young. However, we don't care. It's nice to dream. The holiday period is a time when we're allowed to indulge our childhood fantasies. Ad executives know this fact all too well and that's why we have an annual love affair with their promotional interludes.

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