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Early-onset Christmas SAD // How to mess up a 'sorry' ad

04 Nov 2019  |  Dominic Mills 
Early-onset Christmas SAD // How to mess up a 'sorry' ad

Argos’s 'Book of Dreams' ad from The&Partnership might be just good enough to warrant starting Christmas too early, writes Dominic Mills. Plus: A ‘sorry’ ad from Boeing - except in one vital respect.

Eeeeurgh... I am experiencing early-onset seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It’s not even Bonfire Night, Black Friday is three weeks away and the weather is warm.

Yet the first Christmas blockbusters have already appeared. The first to stake its claim was Asda last week, followed by Argos, Iceland and Walkers.

This year, I’ll write about the interesting ones (good or bad) as they come. The dull and the predictable... I’ll leave alone.

But first a diversion. The Advertising Association/Warc predicts that Xmas spend this year will total £6.8bn, up 4.7pc on last year’s £6.45bn. The biggest single increase, it says, will be in online video (+21% period on period), of which broadcaster VOD will take a major share (+15%). If the AA/Warc is right, some of this will come at the expense of traditional TV, which it forecasts down 2.4% comparing Q4 this year with last.

Wow. Looking at the total it is, roughly speaking, about 25% of annual display spend crammed into just two months. And the bulk of it comes from just a few sectors — retail, fashion, toiletries/cosmetics, entertainment, maybe a bit of travel too.

What this also suggests is quite a severe seasonal and sectoral skewing of the advertising economy into a concentrated period of time. It’s hard to say exactly how this translates into prices over November and December, except to say that over the rest of the year there must be bargains galore to be had in terms of deals for sectors less dependent on Christmas.

So what’s driving the change? Two things, I think. One is the increasingly precarious nature of retail, whereby Christmas performance is now the arbiter of success, failure and survival.

But getting your ads out so early — surely no-one is actually planning their Christmas shop yet — means the budget is stretched across a longer period and therefore risks a) viewer fatigue or ad invisibility or b) lower share of voice when everybody else piles in in the critical weeks closer to Christmas.

The second big change is the permanent and expanded status of Black Friday, which seems to be a game that all retailers feel they have to play, even if none of them want to, and therefore consumes significant amounts of budget.

Separately, the rise of the retail ‘precariat’ in turn, exposes agencies and media owners to risk, unless they can get payment upfront and/or insurance. Who, for example would put money on Debenhams making it into February next year, given that in September it splashed £3m of its already-stretched budget on reminding us, Mark Twain-like, that it was still alive? You can add your own list of High Street favourites for the mortuary.

Right, back to the ads.

Iceland (above) uses ‘borrowed interest’ from the film Frozen (geddit?). Asda’s two-minute blockbuster (below) features a couple of kids who sprinkle some Xmas magic around their village... hmmm, so far, so predictable.

But this week’s cracker is Argos’s Book of Dreams from The&Partnership. Below is the full-length version from YouTube which is worth sticking with.

For starters, the cliched Christmas shots (tree, snow, lights, adorable kids, perfect family etc) are absent or disposed of quickly. The hook is in the good old-fashioned Argos catalogue, an unashamed nostalgia play (along with the Simple Minds Don’t You (Forget About Me) soundtrack). In the Mills household, catalogue items were always marked ‘Want’ or ‘Got’ — and no prizes for guessing which was the longer list. Every family we knew did the same. The memories will resonate for many.

Daughter has left the catalogue on the kitchen table, a drum kit circled for Dad (complete with dad-bod — nice touch). The kit miraculously appears and Dad starts playing, joined by a second kit for his daughter as she comes down the stairs. The kitchen turns into a stage and soon they are playing a double solo to a crowd.

It’s light, it’s fun, but best of all there’s no faux sentimentality or empty ‘goodwill to all mankind’ gestures of the type that cloy and make you want to stick your fingers down the throat. In fact, edit it down, and it could run at any time of year.

Oh, and if you want to wallow in the past, Argos has built a Book of Dreams website with catalogues going all the way back to the mid-70s. A nice touch.

For me, an early front runner for ad of the season.


A ‘sorry’ ad from Boeing - except in one vital respect

Newsbrands’ print editions have long been the go-to destination for corporate apology ads (KFC’s added use of OOH bringing a new dimension to the genre). Think Tesco, Starbucks, BA and so on. It’s not difficult to understand why. A serious message demands a serious medium, plus they are easy to buy fast and (relatively) cheap.

I don’t suppose, however, that the FT, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post are read by many people in Indonesia or Ethiopia.

If there were any readers there, I imagine they would have been sick to the bottom of their stomachs when they saw the Boeing ad placed in one of those newsbrands last week.

It was what I call a ‘sorry’ ad, in the sense that it completely lacked any empathy, taste or sense of human decency. But if you read it — and apologies for the less-than-stellar picture here — you will see that it is not sorry in the only aspect that matters. That is because it carries no hint of an apology to those whose friends and family died in the two Boeing 737 Max crashes.

“We mourn those whose lives were lost on Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and offer our deepest sympathies to their family and friends. We will always remember. From all of us at Boeing.”

Hollow words from what we now see is a soulless entity. What it should have added was that a) Boeing was deeply sorry for the victims and their relatives and b) for the way it initially tried to suggest that the crashes were nothing to do with it, but down to pilot error.

You might wonder what Boeing is playing at. The answer, I think, is that it was in effect trying to build a shield round its CEO, Dennis Muilenburg who was, that day, due to appear before Congress. We do care, it was trying to say, even if everything we’ve done so far suggests we don’t.

Yet the choice of newsbrands like the FT, WSY and NYT, suggests Boeing still has a tin ear, more interested in appealing to (or appeasing) opinion formers and investors (i.e. the elite) and protecting what is left of its reputation than accepting responsibility.

As for the choice of two other newsbrands, The Seattle Times and the Chicago Tribune, those are Boeing’s two principal locations in the US so the purpose there must be, to borrow from politics, to shore up the home base. After all, there will be many Boeing staff deeply ashamed of the way their company has behaved and getting it in the neck from families and friends. So, the dunderheads in corporate PR will think, now they can hold their heads up. Job done.

And all at a bargain price (thanks to AdWeek for the calculation) based on rate card of $600,000 — or, to put it another way, about a week and a bit of Muilenburg’s $23m a year take-home packet.

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DATA SNAPSHOT

22 Nov 2019 

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