A Tale of Two Christmases

Welcome to an all-new Talking Ideas blog.

Every week we’ll share two polarizing views on a topic, trend or theme from the world of marketing.

This week we are all about Christmas – do you side with celebrating the spirit and fantasy of Christmas or would you rather nod knowingly to beautifully–observed reality?

Bring On The Schmaltz by Rosie Lewis

I should start with a disclaimer. I love Christmas. The sparkles, the lights, the mince pies, Mariah Carey warbling on the radio, some girl in Love Actually warbling Mariah Carey on the TV. I get as excited as a giddy toddler discovering the crown in a cracker for the first time. I honestly cannot see one bad thing about Christmas.

As the year draws its final breath, the spirit of Christmas makes a magical entrance. The frosty winter weather is thawed by a collective sense of warmth and joy as we celebrate with family and friends.

I love that we are a reserved country who infamously do not feel comfortable sharing or showing emotion, yet at Christmas we transform into a nation who openly and proudly weep at adverts.

As advertisers we are all lying to ourselves if we say we wouldn’t kill for the amount of press, buzz and conversation sparked by the John Lewis Christmas ad. Brands across the nation try to elicit similar reactions, although the critics have argued that Christmas ads are increasingly becoming too cloying and sentimental. However, this is the season of goodwill and if you can’t becoming as slushy as British snow at Christmas when can you?

I would argue Christmas is the season of giving. In Media, we play a huge role in heralding the start of the season. Media helps brands tell stories and at Christmas we tell stories with a purpose. Stories which encourage giving, inclusiveness, sharing and selflessness. This year John Lewis has partnered with Age UK, and Sainsbury’s children’s story emboldens people to help their neighbours. Both are admirable messages that would not gain as much attention if it wasn’t for the spirit of Christmas.

Yes, the adverts are intended to pull on the heart strings but that is what makes Christmas so special. It is a time to look up from our own individual problems and at the faces gathered around us at the table. Christmas is about giving and sharing. The ritual of bringing people together should be celebrated and championed.

If the reaction to Christmas ads mean that the UK becomes a little more caring then it can’t be a bad thing. We in Media have a duty to keep the spirit of Christmas alive; to keep warming the hearts of Britain and encouraging goodwill.

Keep it Real by Dani Murphy

I know. It’s the festive season and now, more than ever, we want to be awed. We want peace. We want love. We want joy so prolific that even the sprouts can’t help but burst into a rendition of deck the halls.

But I’d rather throw myself under a sleigh than endure another advert peddling The Great Christmas Delusion. Twee displays of togetherness, unbearably well-behaved children, snow on cue. These adverts say nothing to me about my life. Most Christmases I’ve seen invariably involve tantrums, too many Baileys or – at the very least – a lingering sense of boredom. So, as Currys tell us in their latest offering: spare the act. Give me Morrisons’ jaded mum. Hark Harvey Nichols’ selfishness.

This isn’t me being cynical. Schmaltz just gets in the way. The Christmas I care about is buried deep under a Coca-Cola truck-sized pile of sparkle and slush and I want to look it in the eye. Christmas is a celebration of love and family, and what’s more disappointing in this world than love and family?

Grinch-lynchers are quick to defend the ‘feel good factor’ but fail to consider that telling people that Christmas only goes one way and they MUST ENJOY IT BECAUSE IT IS MAGICAL isn’t feel good. It’s as dogmatic and dangerous as the media pushing unrealistic body standards on women. Lonely? Stressed? Broke? Allergic to mince pies? Christmas is for you too, even if it is a bit rubbish. No good comes from force-feeding people holiday spirit like doomed geese.

Shane McGowan gets it. FairyTale of New York is essentially a boozed up squabble with a catchy riff, yet it’s consistently been voted the best Christmas song of all time. Try telling anyone warbling “you’re a bum/you’re a punk” to their mates at 4am that it hasn’t got heart. And look at Boots’ 2014 spot with an overworked nurse who doesn’t make it home until Boxing Day. Everyone’s knackered (even the man on the soundtrack sings about being achy) and there’s a refreshing implication that it’s just a bit of make-up. This doesn’t make it any less touching, and the concurrent social campaign went on to prove that Boots was all about the people – real people.

There’s no need to resort to lazy clichés to tell a good Christmas story. And there’s no need to be mawkish to rouse emotion. Advertising that makes the truth comfortable, even beautiful? That’s my kind of magic.

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Rosie Lewis

Rosie Lewis works as a Creative on OMD’s very own Creative Team. She is always seeking out inspiration and innovation. She loves sharing her passion with others and is likely to be found writing about empowering, interesting and real communication ideas.

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