Festive Advertising through the Ages

In Advertising by MediaVision

Festive Advertising - MediaVision blog

It’s that time of year again! Bring out the mulled wine, mice pies, tinsel and the turkey. Sit down and relax in front of the fire and watch the yearlong anticipated Christmas advert battle. Who’s going to win? John Lewis with their Man on the Moon advert? Sainsbury’s with Mog’s Christmas Calamity? Lidl? Aldi? Cadbury’s?

When it comes to Christmas, brands love to exploit all the commercial possibilities. It’s said that Charles Dickens inspired the Victorians to renew the meaning of Christmas. At the time, Britain was the heart of manufacturers, industrialists and shop keepers so naturally they saw huge opportunity in taking advantage of the newly found generosity of the Victorians by decorating shop windows with their irresistible produce. In 1931, Coca-Cola released their first Christmas poster, which is said to have set the tone and made the Father Christmas suit red.

Through the years, the Christmas advert has become a national long awaited competition between the UK’s biggest brands with John Lewis taking the top spot most years. However, brands such as Sainsbury’s, Asda, Lidl, Aldi, Coca-Cola and even PC World have now decided to join the run for the most watched Christmas advert.

Looking at Google Trends from 2005-2015, there is a massive jump in popularity between 2013 and 2014 after the cute 2013 John Lewis Christmas advert, ‘The Journey’. Now, each year we expect the brand to exceed all expectations.

Festive Advertising - MediaVision

Let me take you through a magical merry journey, and show you some of the best (and worst) Christmas adverts throughout the years. Some you may remember, some you may want to forget.

McDonalds – ‘Happy Holidays’ – 1983

Probably one of the creepiest Christmas commercials I’ve seen. It also came up in the ‘10 worst Christmas adverts of all time’. I completely agree. It begins with some happy American children skating about, when out of nowhere comes a terrifying Ronald McDonald with a horror film grin. He skates with the children while some random animated animals watch, and the youngest of the children gets left behind because he can’t ice skate. Mr McDonald then picks up this little kid and spins him round (the kid looks as though he is desperately trying to not look straight into Ronald McDonald’s dead eyes), sets him down and all is well. I can’t say I really understand what’s going on in this but damn, you may get nightmares.

Yellow Pages – ‘Mistletoe’ – 1992  

It’s one of the most memorable Christmas adverts of the 90’s. Aired in the best year there ever was (the year I was born), it involves a little boy wanting to kiss a girl holding mistletoe, but the girl is too selfish to bend down for the little boy so naturally, he goes and grabs a Yellow Pages to stand on.
The advert was so successful they recreated it in 2001. It’s a shame no one really uses Yellow Pages anymore. Oh to go back to a time with smart children, dial-up connection and 5 channels.

Coca-Cola – ‘Holidays Are Coming’ – 1995 

So, this is probably one of the most iconic Christmas adverts out there. First aired in 1995 (and every year since), the advert involves a load of Coca-Cola’s twinkling Christmassy trucks driving towards a snow-covered town filled with excited American children awaiting their yearly dose of Coca-Cola. Of course, as the trucks pass, everything becomes decorated in fairy lights, baubles and tinsel. This advert marks the beginning of the festive season for most people once it’s aired on TV, but I think they should have updated their advertising since 1995! I guess it’s become so iconic, Coca-Cola don’t need to change anything. (Also, I don’t think they need massive marketing campaigns to sell their products!)

Mr Kipling – ‘Nativity’ – 2003   

I think this is one of my personal favourites. Not only did the controversial advert cause uproar, it was accused of blasphemy and received a hefty 570 complaints. The advert begins with a lady quite obviously giving birth in a hospital but then the camera zooms out and shows that it is a play and everyone is watching in horror. It then cuts to a shot of one of the people watching the play and a vicar. The person says, “Has Mr Kipling ever directed a nativity play before?” and the vicar replies: “No, but he does make exceedingly good cakes.” At the end of the advert someone from the play shouts “It’s a girl!”

Apparently the company said they sought the opinion of the Church of England and the Catholic Church before airing the ad and got approval so I don’t know what everyone was so worried about! I thought it was blooming hilarious!

Irn Bru – ‘Snowman’ – 2006 

This is a Christmas advert mocking the well-known cartoon ‘The Snowman’. I think this got me and my family singing the Irn Bru version of the song while watching The Snowman on Christmas day, 2006. One of the best things about the advert is the fact that the kid singing has a Scottish accent! So it begins like ‘The Snowman’, a little boy finishes making a snowman and of course begins to drink and Irn Bru. The snowman comes to life and they begin to fly all over Scotland, seeing all the sites. At one point you even get a glimpse of the Loch Ness Monster. All this time the horrible little kid is teasing the snowman with the Irn Bru but not letting him have any. Eventually, the snowman becomes infuriated, nicks the Irn Bru and let’s go of the kid. I don’t blame him to be honest.

Sainsbury’s – ‘Christmas Truce’ – 2014 

Not going to lie, when I saw this I sobbed. First aired in 2014, Sainsbury’s worked with the Royal British Legion to tell a real life story of the Christmas day truce in 1914. All the soldiers came and met in no man’s land to play games and swap presents. At the end of the advert, the boy at the beginning realised that one of the German soldiers had put a bar of Sainsbury’s chocolate in his pocket. This advert had a huge range of mixed reviews with some people saying that it was tasteless using the First World War to promote a supermarket. I understand what they’re saying but to be fair, £1 of all the Sainsbury’s chocolate bars sold in 2014 was donated to The British Legion.

And Finally…

This year’s top two Christmas Adverts for 2015.

John Lewis – ‘Man On The Moon’ – 2015  

John Lewis collaborated with Age UK to make this year’s John Lewis Christmas advert. The aim was to raise awareness about the amount of old age people who go for weeks, even months without talking to anyone. This real tear-jerker shows a little girl with a telescope trying to get presents to an old man she can see who is living on the moon all by himself. At the end, the little girl manages to attach a present to some balloons and fly the present to the old man. The old man opens the present and it turns out to be probably the most powerful telescope known to man, as he looks through it and can see the little girl. It’s a lovely advert but if I’m completely honest, I really quite like Aldi’s take on it.

Sainsbury’s – ‘Mog’s Christmas Calamity’ – 2015 

I can’t say it’s the best Christmas advert to come out of Sainsbury’s yet. Sainsbury’s festive advert shows ‘Mog’ the cat who causes a lot of trouble on Christmas morning for his family when he pretty much ends up burning down his owners house. It’s all good in the end because everyone from the street share their Christmas with the family, giving the advert a warm feeling of togetherness – which is what Christmas is all about, kids! I think the thing that baffles me most about this advert is the fact that at the end, Mog gets a boiled egg to eat. Do cats even eat eggs? Is that a thing? Why an egg? Why not a bowl of milk? Do people serve boiled eggs at Christmas now? This advert poses so many questions.

So there you have it, a very brief history of Christmas advertising in a nutshell. Christmas adverts are only going to get bigger, better and more festive. I don’t know about you but I’m excited to see what comes out next year already!

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