Winning the Christmas ad battle online

Dominic Tillson, head of insight at Inskin Media, says its time to set a gold standard for digital festive campaigns.

Ads by the likes of John Lewis and Sainsbury’s have long been considered to be the gold standard for TV Christmas campaigning, but when it comes to the digital equivalent, theres certainly a gap to be filled. And with one in five of us now actively searching for our favourite Christmas ads online, rather than waiting to catch them on TV, there is clearly a real opportunity for brands to get to grips with how to best replicate the impact of their TV campaigns online and via digital channels. This year, John Lewis has attempted to lead the charge for a digital-first Christmas, by releasing its heavily-hyped Elton John Christmas ad online, ahead of its appearance on ITV.

But there’s a lot more that brands could be doing to ensure they’re reaping the rewards of digital advertising. By hitting consumers with an emotional gut-punch and then giving them the opportunity to continue that emotional journey at their own pace, digital campaigns offer the opportunity for unique, in-depth experiences that can match and even exceed those offered by traditional channels.

With the right strategy, there’s even capacity for brands to amplify the impact of their standard display advertising online without necessarily spending more. Indeed, our studies found that standard display ads shown after a high-impact format are 27 per cent more likely to be looked at than those preceded by another standard display format, with consumers paying attention to these ads for 39 per cent longer.

Brand recall
Longer visual engagement drives brand recall, which is particularly important at Christmas, when the competition for consumers attention is at its fiercest. If brands are able to visually and emotionally engage consumers, they are more likely to make a lasting impression that will continue to flourish beyond the festive season.

Creativity doesnt need to be solely focused on format, of course. The creative itself needs a rethink too if its going to work digitally. Major brands such as M&S, KFC and Sainsburys have now all fired festive shots to varying degrees of success. Sainsburys was accused of copying an earlier John Lewis ad; M&S turned in a rather muted effort focusing on “product over creative”; and KFC wisely focused on the fact that it closes its restaurants on Christmas Day, giving the turkeys a “day off.” None of these campaigns, however, have truly engaging digital components.

The brand thats really made an impression online this year – particularly on social media – is Iceland, with its socially-conscious ad regarding the controversial use of palm oil.

The spot was banned from broadcast, because it was said to be promoting a political agenda – but this negative publicity worked spectacularly in Iceland’s favour. The ad went viral within days, spread via a series of celebrity social media posts and supplemental, online-only spots that further drove engagement with the cause and with the brand.

Repurposed material
It was simply material repurposed from an earlier Greenpeace campaign – but, considering that John Lewis spent a reported £5m to claim Elton John for its spot, there’s clearly something to be said for ensuring good quality TV advertising is also able to sow its seeds online.

Cobbling together a Christmas cover over a minute-long TV ad may have once been enough to win the hearts of consumers. But with more and more people consuming content outside the living room, festive advertising success is now as much a game of strategy, as it is story. With festive ad-spend breaking records this year, it’s likely that competition will only get hotter for 2019 – and brands that don’t stay ahead of the game will quickly find themselves left behind.