FFS, it's only a bloody Christmas ad. Let's have some perspective

14 Nov 2016  |  Dominic Mills 
FFS, it's only a bloody Christmas ad. Let's have some perspective

Watching adland wet itself over the new John Lewis Christmas ad is making Dominic Mills feel sick. Plus: a toe-curlingly embarrassing whoopsie in the media trade press.

I understand all too well the pressure the ad industry puts on itself to a) whip up excitement about its wares and b) to prove that, in a world characterised by turbulence and uncertainty, it both has its finger on the pulse and is relevant.

But please, let's have some perspective. It is, after all, only advertising.

Last week we saw the industry go all out on both fronts, what with the launch of the Christmas advertising season and Donald Trump's triumph in the US presidential election.

Let's start with the Christmas ads. Personally I blame John Lewis for the whole business. Its annual dollop of schmaltz (ok, some of them are very good, I admit) means that not only is the launch of the ad an event in and of itself, but also the standard by which all other Christmas ads are measured.

Cue hysteria all round as the press (led by, but by no means confined to the trades) gorged itself on speculation.

What was the music? What was the theme? What furry animals would star? Was that teaser ad with a carrot a clue? No, it was Aldi's Kevin the Carrot, having a gentle dig at John Lewis.

By Wednesday I was heartily sick of it all, compounded by the fact that, in the park opposite, most of the trees are still in leaf, and at least half those leaves are green. Christmassy...it was not.

On Thursday a friend who admits to a passing interest in advertising texted me: "Am I imagining it, or is that an ad for the John Lewis ad on my EPG? This is too much...".

Hmm. And he was right. As part of a deal with Sky, a preview of the ad was available well before the first showing later that evening...plus, as if anyone would be that interested, additional short films about the making of the ad and garden wildlife (real animals, I assume as opposed to CGI).

What's the most interesting thing about the ad? Well, to me it's the fact that the ad centres around an ethnic couple. Hooray. Shock, non-whites enjoy Christmas too.

Actually, not a shock at all. We all know that, but judging by past Christmas advertising by John Lewis (and pretty much everybody else too) you'd be forgiven for thinking Christmas was exclusively a white festival (and a middle-class one, too).

As for the ad as an ad...well, it's pretty ho-hum by John Lewis's usual standards. But M&S's Mrs Claus is an absolute humdinger. It's ironic, really: after years of being outshone at Christmas by A&E DDB, Rainey Kelly's swansong for M&S shows what it can really do.

And let's applaud a corking performance as Mrs Claus by Janet McTeer, who comes over as a cross between Helen Mirren (but younger) and Emma Thompson (sexier).

M&S launched this in style on Friday night on Gogglebox, with a special C4 endorsement that included an added segment featuring C4 stars Kirsty and Phil, Dawn O'Porter and Jimmy Doherty. By Saturday morning even the Sun noted that the ad was going down better than Buster the boxer.

But overall, I'm with whoever tweeted in response to the JL: "It's November. Go away."

Meanwhile, in the US...

Of course, while adland was wetting itself over John Lewis, in a parallel universe known as IRL, an important quadrennial event was taking place.

Naturally, adland being adland, no opportunity to connect itself to the real world can be missed, so there was a clutch of the usual '6 Things Marketing Can Learn from Donald Trump' pieces.

This one from Fortune is written by John A. Quelch who, believe it or not, is a Harvard academic. Shame on him.

Naturally, the '6 Things etc' style is susceptible to inflation, so it wasn't long before someone came along with '7 Social Media lessons etc'. We'll be into double-digit lessons soon.

Still, none of these is a toe-curlingly embarrassing as the piece in Campaign the week before, highlighted on the front page as 'What legacy brands can learn from the US presidential campaign'.

I'm willing to bet that the author, one Rob Shephardson, as well as whoever it was at Campaign that okayed the piece, is currently walking round town with a large paper bag over their head. Either that or someone has dumped a bucket of shit on them.

That's because the piece was predicated entirely on a Clinton victory. "Here is what Clinton has done brilliantly", the author trumpets before explaining why she would win.

Apparently, there were four main reasons why she would win - all of which were relevant to marketers and establishment brands.

One: she was taking advantage of the larger forces at play; two, she knew what victory looked like (whatever that means); three, she adapted and positioned herself to win (as if you wouldn't); and four, she played her own game - not well enough, as it turned out.

Meaningless, trite rubbish.

It's possible that Shephardson, being an adman, thought she'd win because she outspent him almost three to one on advertising. Fat lot of good it did her.

Well, the lesson I'm learning from this is never to read of any of this sort of crap again.

Oh, that's unfair. If there's one title whose '7 Things to Learn from Donald Trump's Victory' I would read, it's Professional Hair Dresser Weekly.

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