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2018’s Christmas ads prove many brands are running out of ideas

It’s that time of year again. Black Friday is done, Cyber Monday over, now we’re staring at the last 20-something days until Christmas ready for successive shopping face-offs, bracing for the outdoor markets, and wondering how another year has already gone.

Contrary to what that might suggest, though, I’m actually a huge festive advocate. But it has to be said 2018’s season of goodwill has started with a whimper. The Christmas ads have been unveiled by the usual suspects, and you can’t help but wonder if Scrooge has taken over the asylum what with the rather measly offerings.

Let’s start with the John Lewis – Elton John tag team, given the retail giant usually causes the biggest stir from the lot. Whether you think ‘Your Song’ is a benchmark recording or not is irrelevant.

The message is nice enough— a ‘simple’ gift, say a piano, can lead to global stardom, or something. However, pinning hopes on pure celebrity power rather than creative work isn’t the most inspired move ever, albeit it is a change of tact for this brand.

Waitrose’s parody is equally fine.

The problem is when you throw in Lidl’s social media piggybacking, and all the other ads made solely to poke fun at what is, overall, a relatively average example of Christmas salesmanship by John Lewis, things begins to get a little ‘meh’.

Advertising has been engulfed by its own image, bringing us to a point where the adverts are the main focus of the adverts, rather than products or services.

You can bet Iceland isn’t even the least bit bothered, either. It says a lot when the biggest headlines from the Christmas campaigns came from The Clip That Never Was.

Iceland managing to get its effort banned due to strict regulations surrounding politics and commercials— the ad is a Greenpeace production —  was a stroke of genius. Who wants to win the same old race when the world is all about being first to new starting lines?

Whether we’ll still remember it happening 20 years from now, just as we can recall all the words to the Toys ‘R’ Us ad from the early-1990s, is another question. Nevertheless, Iceland is the only major to give us something genuinely unique this year, reflecting (although not necessarily indicative of) wider struggles in the marketing sector.

Sheer volume of output for over a century has left the public near-immune to brand messaging, and marcomms professionals are struggling to respond with anything more than a shrug and anxious side-glance at their colleagues. It’s time to step up and prove worth in the sector through innovation and by breaking new ground, those unable to do so should move on already.

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