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Why do we care so much about Christmas adverts?

Christmas just ain’t what it used to be. And not because I’m no longer a child and therefore don’t experience the feverish anticipation of tearing into the living room on Christmas morning to see what Santa brought. (Mainly because I still do that – screw the social norms!) It’s because the world we live in has changed unrecognisably from those faffy days of phoning people up on a landline to ask what they want, tearing around actual physical shops inspecting actual physical things and, God forbid, making Christmas lists. Now we’re all Instagram gift edits, Black Friday bulk buying and digital secret Santa draws.

And that’s no bad thing: researching presents is easier, the shopping experience itself is far less stressful and organising get-togethers at the busiest time of year is a comparative dream. But I must admit that, digital native though I am, I felt rather horrified when my husband told me that the school where he teaches showed the John Lewis #ManOnTheMoon advert at the end of assembly instead of playing a Christmas carol. I mean.

It seems almost vulgar that, in the place of a festive, celebratory, traditional song, students are being shown a piece of mass marketing to get them in the Christmas spirit. And although it’s not your average ‘advert’ – it does tell a story, complete with textbook John Lewis acoustic cover of a popular song – it’s still quite clearly an advert with a ‘buy some stuff’ message plastered all over the end. So why has it become a cultural phenomenon? Why has releasing ‘the best’ Christmas ad of the year become an, and I quote, ‘arms race’?

Well, for the consumer, they herald the beginning of the festive season. Once these ads start to be released in mid, or more often early, November – and I don’t know about you, but my consumption of them has been solely digital – it’s as if we’re granted permission to feel Christmassy. We’re allowed to get the goosebumps, shed a guilty happy tear, start thinking about spending the holidays with family and friends and all the lovely (and mostly delicious) things that come with that. And, of course, begin panicking about all the shopping that’s ahead of us.

Another reason is simply that it’s become ‘a thing’. John Lewis considers itself the king of emotional Christmas adverts because it’s been making them the longest and it managed to develop a formula that created hype. Cue a number of other huge brands jumping on the bandwagon and wham: we’ve got ourselves a competition to make consumers feel the wobbliest and, in turn, most likely to share the ad with their friends.

This act of sharing our favourite ad is the social phenomenon that’s followed suit. Following the release of the 10 or so ads that had people talking this year, Facebook and Twitter feeds were awash with criticism, praise and confusion – but, in most cases, we were nailing our banner to a particular mast and championing one particular brand’s festive output. So as well as being a genuine marketing, money-making, ‘brand love’ exercise for companies, it’s sort of a competition we all have with each other: which side are you on? Which of these pieces of emotional advertising do you most identify with? And what’s so darn enjoyable about it is its banality. We can all share in a feel-good piece of video about a feel-good time of year, have some fun with it at the same time and know it basically means nothing – what’s not to like?

For brands, it’s a different story. In a rather uncomfortably titled article, The Telegraph explored why ‘emotion makes the tills ring’. According to the piece, we’re able to be more fickle now than we ever have been before; switching our Christmas food shop of choice, for example, used to be a case of finding a new store, location and driving a significant distance to get there. Now we just tap in a different search term and order everything online. So this deep emotional connection is an important way of developing a sense of brand loyalty at a time when it’s increasingly rare.

And hey, whether or not it makes a brand more likeable is highly subjective, as you’ll have seen from the many and varied reactions to the ads on your Facebook news feed. Christmas and its associated retail frenzy is an annual inevitability for most of us – so we might as well have a few nice bits of content to get us through it, right?

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