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Elton John

A PR-etty good year for Christmas ads

The peak.

The ‘sweet spot’.

The pinnacle.

If you’d asked me last year, I’d have said that the peak for Christmas ads had been and gone. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the major retailers’ efforts in 2017- the Sainsburys ‘sing-a-long’, Tesco’s turkey stories and John Lewis’ Monster Moz just didn’t quite do it for me.

But this year I’m eating last years words. The battle of the ads is exciting and as gripping as Kevin the Carrot’s destiny in Aldi’s ‘series-led’ effort… #savekevin

Kevin the anthropomorphic carrot

Here’s a few PR highlights from this years’ best of the best:

Storytelling- it’s the people who connect with an audience, not the products.

One thing that every ad has in common is the human-interest angle. OK, telling the story-behind-the- story isn’t a new tactic for us PR professionals, but it is still interesting when you see just how far some retailers have taken it this year. They’re all at it! Boots’ ‘unique people and unique gifts’, Kevin the Carrot’s mission to defeat the evil Parsnip for Aldi, Holly’s Christmas extravaganza for M&S

But let’s take one of the most anticipated Christmas ad’s- John Lewis. Since starting their creative partnership with Adam and Eve back in 2009, they have taken storytelling to another level, and it’s no different this year. Despite early speculation of the retailer securing the Rocket Man himself, no one could quite anticipate the impact the short biopic was going to have. With little to no highlight of actual John Lewis products in the ad, it tells the story of Elton John’s life in what is being called his retiring year of music. A beautiful and touching story of a boy growing up to be a music legend.

John Lewis

But the wider thought around the ongoing PR is the real star on top of the Christmas tree here. From dropping the ‘Lewis’ on one of their flagship stores as a teaser, their clever and simple hashtag #eltonjohnlewis, to sharing Elton images from years gone by on their social channels- John Lewis has bigger things in store, trust me. They’re playing the long PR game. This isn’t just about securing Christmas sales- this ad puts them on the Yellow Brick Road to future customer loyalty. How?

It’s no coincidence that Elton John’s music has had a massive spike in interest since the air of the ad on Nov 15th. Streaming has increased by 88% and here’s the interesting part- 43% of these ‘streamers’ are between 18-35. They might be listening to Elton’s music for the very first time. They might also be considering shopping at John Lewis for the very first time… see where I’m going with this? John Lewis are growing their customer base. They’ve picked a hero that their existing customers are likely to know (and love) as well as reaching out to a new customer base using Elton’s profile. 2019 is also looking like a massive year for Elton- a blockbuster movie and a final tour. John Lewis- trend setters yet again. There’s scope for them here to ride the Elton PR wave well into 2019.

Independent: Elton John's Popularity Spikes

A John Lewis storefront with the 'Lewis' removed from the signage

Maximising multi-platform

Looks like 2018 is the year of the ad ‘scandal’. Iceland’s ethical and emotive ad about the impact of Palm Oil farming… never makes it to TV! So, what do they do? They PR and box clever by flooding all their social channels with the content (and a copy of the video and key messages, of course) and then they sit back and let it pan out. Sorry, do I sound cynical? I don’t mean to, I’m actually PR-envious of their plan.

The ad has caused such a stir in the media that Iceland is not only looking at incredible engagement on their social media (don’t forget- this is the only way you can see it!) but they basically became front page news overnight. Despite cynics calling them out on the legitimacy of their claims, Iceland used this opportunity to play the moral high ground, pledging to cut Palm Oil from their own branded products and calling on other retailers and manufactures to take a stand. I think it’s fair to say that Iceland are now lightyears ahead of their household known Peter Andre ‘fad-ads’. Their PR effort means that it’s not just mums who are welcome at Iceland- it’s anyone who cares enough to save poor Rang Tan. 

Iceland's illustrated orangutan

To lighten the mood, let’s plug into Sainsburys. You know that feeling when you turn up to a wedding and there’s someone at the bar wearing the exact same outfit as you? It’s awkward. Well it was a bit awkward when Sainsbury’s launched their Nativity ad that looked a lot like John Lewis’ partner ad… but fear not. The PR gods turned it around. They used the tactic that we should all employ in times of crisis- pick on the young lad wearing the plug costume.

Random but it worked. It was even branded #PlugLife across their social, with M&S, eBay and Amazon creating plug parodies in homage. The lesson here? Not all is lost, even if you’re at a loss. The creative had aimed to be so unique that Sainsbury’s had a fall back. It might not have taken the exact road they’d hoped for, but they plugged the gap… literally.

Screenshot of a tweet from @MirrorTV reading 'Two seconds in Sainsbury's Christmas ad which 'beat' whole John Lewis advert #EltonJohnLewis #PlugLife' followed by a still from the advert featuring a child dressed as a plug

Sometimes less is more- and clever always works

Not necessarily an ad, but worth mentioning for its pure PR genius- Lidl grips the nations’ attention with it’s parody of the John Lewis’s ad. Witty, right on time and simple, Lidl do what they’re known for doing best- things on a budget. They’ve sat back and let John Lewis spend the cash and do the months of planning but they’re ready and waiting to strike, and boy did they get lucky.

Instantly shareable on social and just above the line enough for John Lewis not to press charges, their efforts to turn this around in a day is Christmas Commendable. Reaching across retail audiences via social media is smart and cost effective (well, completely free) proving that no matter the budget or deadline, if you’re clever you can make an impact.

An electric keyboard underneath the text 'It's a Lidl bit funny...'

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