Revolutionary Measures

What Moz the Monster tells about the changing media landscape

By now pretty much everyone will have seen the latest John Lewis Christmas ad, starring a loveable monster that lives under a young boy’s bed. Without giving away any plot details to the few that haven’t watched it, it all ends happily thanks to a thoughtfully chosen gift.



Over the past few years Christmas adverts have become a fixture of the festive season, with the media (and public) eagerly awaiting the offerings from the likes of John Lewis, Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer. All sides seem to be involved in a creative arms race, with ever-more sophisticated production values and talent involved – Moz cost an alleged £7m and is directed by Oscar-winning director Michel Gondry, while M&S has recruited Paddington (and Angela Rippon) to head its Christmas push.


What’s most interesting to me is not which is the ‘best’ advert or how much of an impact it has on sales, but what Christmas adverts tell us about the changing media landscape. Not long ago the only way to ensure that these productions were watched would have been to spend millions booking high profile TV slots and hoping that viewers would be there and watching. This has changed – obviously ads are still shown on TV, but a lot of the viewers are online, with people watching them via company websites and YouTube.

That means that PR and social media are now the key channels for driving ad awareness and views. For example, the John Lewis ad was all over the media, from the marketing press to the tabloids. The BBC ran a piece analysing social media responses to Moz and his antics, while other brands aimed to get on the act, running surveys on which was the most popular Christmas advert. M&S even had to deny that the Paddington advert featured swearing (obviously not by its Peruvian star).

I think this is part of a wider, growing trend. Many people either don’t watch TV adverts or they simply don’t register on their consciousness. You might click on an informational ad after an online search or watch a hyped campaign during a major programme or event, such as the World Cup, but we’re now too sophisticated and short of time to discover them for ourselves.

Therefore, you need PR and social media buzz to get people to notice them, which is a complete turn round from the old model of advertising leading the marketing mix. Christmas adverts aren’t the only example of this – TV programmes, films and books are all trailed in the media, rather than relying on ads. PR people should therefore step up and use this trend to justify having a greater say in marketing decision making – and a larger slice of budgets. Communication is vital to business success – even when it comes to monsters under the bed.


November 15, 2017 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The (marketing) meaning of Christmas

christmas tree

As everyone by now has been reminded by their children/mother, there’s less than a month to Christmas, cueing mass panic and a rush to Amazon.

Rather than starting shopping I thought I’d look at the marketing behind Christmas and how it has evolved over the past centuries. From the Christian Church to John Lewis brands have attempted with varying degrees of success to link to a midwinter celebration. Here’s a top four of marketing successes:

1          The Church
Before people start getting upset about the hijacking of the Baby Jesus’ birthday by commercial interests it is worth going back to pagan times. Before the Christian Christmas began there was a major celebration of the midwinter solstice, around the end of December. There’s no record of when Christ was actually born in the Bible, so essentially the church merged the existing pagan festival with Christ’s birth from around the fourth century as part of a move to increase converts and popularity.

2          The Victorians
For popularising other traditions (such as present giving around the day itself, rather than at New Year, and Christmas trees) we have to thank Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert, helped by the pen of Charles Dickens. The stereotypical Christmas scene of snow, robins and greenery comes directly from Victorian times, despite the current lack of ‘seasonal’ weather on the day itself. What better way to spread colonial strength than by giving the world an excuse to celebrate?

3          Coca Cola
There’s a widespread belief that Father Christmas’ red and white costume comes directly from Coca Cola’s 1930s ad campaigns. This may not be completely true – his forerunner St Nicholas dressed in red and white bishop’s vestments – but it is certainly something that the soft drinks giant cannily exploits to this day.

4          John Lewis
Over the last twenty years the competition to own the Christmas experience has led to more and more lavish advertising campaigns. Thanks to a heavy dose of hype these ads now attract press coverage on their own, with commentators discussing their relative merits, and now monitoring the social media buzz. Undoubted winner of the past few festive seasons has been John Lewis, which has knocked Marks & Spencer off its perch as the must see Christmas advert. This year it has spent a reported £7m on its animated Hare and Bear campaign, which generated over 14,500 tweets in its first few hours of release.

So, why is it important? Firstly, Christmas has come to dominate the retail landscape, with many chains doing the majority of their business in the months around 25 December. Secondly, spending is still cautious (despite what official figures say about the UK moving out of recession), so competition for every pound spent is fierce. If you can tap into the Christmas spirit not only will you generate seasonal goodwill, but you will also bring in revenue from customers who will remain loyal over the whole year.

This means that while it is easy to sneer at the over-excitement about TV ad campaigns, they are only the successors to previous attempts by brands to ‘own’ Christmas and therefore win over their audiences – whether to sell soft drinks, Victorian values or even Christianity itself. As the investment shows Christmas is far too important to be left to Father Christmas. Myself, I’ll stick to Scrooge………


November 27, 2013 Posted by | Creative, Marketing | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Father Christmas – marketing genius

father christmas riding through the streets
Image by dryfish via Flickr

After imbibing several glasses of festive spirit (and surviving Christmas lunch at my children’s school) I started thinking about Father Christmas. Specifically, what makes him so successful – and what lessons marketers can learn from the jolly redcoat.

Before those of a religious or pagan bent leap upon me, I do appreciate that Christmas is about a lot more than a fat man in a sleigh dispensing presents to good boys and girls.

Putting that aside, why is Father Christmas so good at marketing himself? Here’s my top five reasons:

1          Focus
He’s stuck at doing one thing, and doing it very well with a clear end date for his campaign, even if the start date seems to be pushed earlier and earlier each year. No variations into Christmas in Summer or trying to steal business from St Valentine here.

2 Openness
Father Christmas is very open to working with others – whether it is Coca Cola, toy retailers or suppliers of novelty nick nacks that no-one in their right mind would otherwise buy. He’s not over-protective of his brand or image rights as he obviously realises all exposure helps (although this might be pushing it a bit.)

3 Air of mystery
Despite being a very approachable brand, Father Christmas has kept his air of mystery. Vital information such as how he gets round the world so quickly, how he gets into houses without chimneys and how he fits all the presents into his sleigh are all kept vague – unless Wikileaks is about to really shock the world with new revelations. And, of course, children never, ever, get to see him on Christmas Eve unless they want to risk zero presents.

4          Multiple brands
A big fat man dressed in red may not be everyone’s cup of tea. So, cunningly, Father Christmas has promoted sub-brands to ensure there’s something for everyone. Whether it is Rudolph with his nose so bright, the toymaking elves or even Mrs Christmas. This also gets over the bit of a pickle he’s got into with the whole Father Christmas/Santa Claus/Saint Nicholas multiple name issue.

5          Incentives
It’s a bit like Pascal’s Wager – if you don’t believe in Father Christmas you don’t get presents. And if you’re not well behaved then ditto (this particularly applies to my children). A simple, straightforward incentive that everyone can understand.

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December 16, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments