The one time of year UK advertising gets a big shot in the arm is Christmas:
Thanks to Adam and Eve DDB’s stewardship of John Lewis we now have this kind of 2-month British Superbowl, where each of the big retailers squeezes out a couple of minutes of heartwarming loveliness for our collective delectation. As it’s been going for quite a long time now, it’s easy to dismiss certain efforts as ‘not as good as last year’, or ‘not as good as that other client’s’, but I think it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate that the whole shebang actually has the entire country (and some parts of the world) talking about advertising, and that’s a rare thing these days (I even heard Russell Brand mention John Lewis’s Christmas ads on his existential-angst-themed podcast).
Hats off for that, but is there something we can learn from the phenomenon?
Well, here’s an obvious point: pretty much all the talked-about ads are long TV commercials. Sure, they sell the odd toy alongside, or make a concomitant (love that word) donation drive, but none of those extras would exist without the 500lb gorilla: a long, usually expensive, TV ad with a big media spend. That might just nudge us into thinking that TV advertising is both far from dead and still the best way to create famous work.
And you’d have to assume that these ads work, otherwise there wouldn’t be more and more of them, year after year. If John Lewis’s Christmas sales had tanked into the toilet these ads would have done the same.
Another point: good old traditional ad agencies have still got it, as long as they’re trusted to come up with the goods. A&E DDB produces great stuff every year, alongside AMV, Grey and the others. Has an agency with a strange single noun name (Mother aside) come up with the goods? Maybe, but have they matched the big boys in fame and craft? Nope.
And have these ads needed a huge amount of intrusive internet surveillance to be effective? Are they behind the indiscriminate harvesting of our personal details? Is each one laser-targeted at our eyeballs via an in-depth analysis of our every last fart and nose pick? I don’t think so.
So the upshot seems to be: good old fashioned TV ads from good old fashioned agencies still kick ass. Yes, they are the tip of the pyramid as far as ads go, but that’s looking at it backwards: clients could have more tips of more pyramids if they trusted great agencies and their creative departments to produce more great TV advertising during the rest of the year.
And yet all the natter is about programmatic, data and Googlebook.