The 5 Lessons Content Marketing Could Learn From Christmas Adverts

Mince pies, mulled wine, cheesy tunes and last-minute panic shopping – all signs that the most wonderful time of the year is here once again. With December finally upon us, the festivities can enter full swing; though for many the mark of the Christmas season is no longer the beginning of the 12th month, but the first screening of iconic and highly anticipated festive adverts.

This year, we’ve seen Elton John star in John Lewis’ famous advert, Sainsbury’s re-enter the running for best ad of the year with their adorable school play production, and Iceland make the headlines for their banned Earth-friendly anti palm oil production in collaboration with Greenpeace. But how is all of this relevant for content marketing? While it’s always key to keep pieces evergreen to avoid pigeonholing yourself into a very short outreach period, meaning I wouldn’t suggest Christmas specific content, this doesn’t mean that there’s nothing content marketers can take from Christmas adverts.

Let’s explore some of the key tactics we can take and apply to creating successful content campaigns.

Tell A(n Emotional) Story

If I asked you to name your favourite Christmas advert of the year, I bet I’d get a lot of people backing Sainsbury’s, John Lewis or McDonalds (if Twitter is anything to judge from). What do these ads have in common? They all tell a story, and one that pulls at the heart strings at that.

If there’s ever a time filled with memories, it’s Christmas. The emotional attachment that people have to this time of year makes it more relevant than ever to weave a story into your content that people can relate to, or one that just makes them feel something.

Take the McDonald’s advert this year: though the link to the product isn’t clear until the end, the advert makes you actually feel for the CGI reindeers involved:

On the other hand, unlike previous years, John Lewis seems to be slipping from the throne with a number of commenters thinking the advert looked too much like an extended promo for the upcoming Elton John film, and many struggling to feel an emotional connection:

The lesson we can take from this as content marketers is the importance of remaining genuine to your brand when telling a story – while previous John Lewis adverts have left us teary-eyed, this one falls short of the mark because it feels promotional. In the content we produce for outreach, we need to make the press story clear, relevant to the brand and, most importantly, a story people want to hear.

Overtly Selling Won’t Get You Talked About

In the world of Christmas adverts, while it may seem important that a brand showcase its products to incite all important festive sales, this method may actually not be the most effective. If you consider your favourite Christmas adverts, the ones you’ve discussed with friends and colleagues, it’s probably not the adverts showcasing piles of food or models strutting into their Christmas party in their new dresses you’re reminiscing on. It’s possible to create adverts, and indeed content, that represents brand values and is brand relevant without specifically mentioning or anchoring on to a product.

The Sainsbury’s ad this year is a great example of an ad that ties into brand values, but doesn’t overtly push the product:

Similarly, when creating content for SEO purposes, we’re always looking to give a journalist a reason to write a story on our research, without viewing the content we send over as an advertorial piece, and of course to include that ever-important follow link back to the client. Just as the Sainsbury’s ad doesn’t mention any groceries, the best content won’t list your (or your clients’) products. Take our analysis of the most reliable airlines around the world for GetGoing Travel Insurance for example:the piece is relevant to the brand as a whole but doesn’t reference travel insurance implicitly. With 22 follow links and 36 pieces of coverage in total the piece was a great success, and one that can be repeated annually for similar effect. The full case study can be viewed here for those interested.

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Be Socially Relevant

To appeal to “woke” millennials, it’s more important than ever to keep campaigns socially relevant, and consider if what you’re promoting is responsible or could cause offence or wider harm. How is this a lesson we can take from Christmas adverts? Well, I’m sure everybody’s heard of Iceland’s “banned” Christmas advert by now, showcasing the harm that the deforestation caused by use of palm oil has on our earth and the habitat of orangutans.

While Clearcast have now cleared up that they did not ban the ad, but merely suggest that the involvement of activist group Greenpeace (who made the video originally) may lead to legal issues, promoting this online as though it was banned has been a great PR tool for Iceland. The brand has positioned itself as an activist, and distanced itself from the reputation previously held around the holidays as the one-stop shop for those looking for cheap and cheerful frozen party food.

For content marketing, the lesson is in being aware of the news cycle, what people are talking about and what people care about. A relevant story will appeal to a journalist – who is judged on the readership and shareability of the articles they produce – more than one that is seemingly random. When brainstorming for new ideas, taking some time to look into the wider press around the sectors your clients slot into can help your campaign gain viral appeal, and top tier links.

Standing Out Is Better Than Fitting In

 The first year that John Lewis released their (now iconic) story-led Christmas advert, when two snow-people learnt the power of love, the brand led the way for others. Breaking from the mould can be scary, but if there’s anything to learn from advertising it’s that disruptive is good.

In content marketing, this means going beyond what your competitors are doing and looking to be innovators. This could mean utilising a new, never before used format or even just taking a new approach to your research. If you want to know more about the importance of news being new, you can read our Head of Creative’s Golden Rules for Content here.

Utilise Competitor Media Coverage

It may seem like a bad thing if your competitors are excelling at the game, but if there’s anything we can learn from budget supermarket, Lidl, it’s that your comeback is everything:

Lidl’s response to John Lewis’ big budget Elton John themed advert is not only hilarious, but sparked a viral social storm that led to organic press coverage off the back of their competitor’s budget. While this is a little more difficult to execute in the world of content, utilising reactive PR is a great way to feed off of the coverage your competitors are getting by adding your own comments and gaining those valuable backlinks. While not strictly content, PR goes hand in hand – especially when we’re working towards the same goal.

This tactic also raised a valuable point on the effectiveness of mentions when you’re receiving viral coverage, which is never a bad thing for a client:

So, how can we use lessons from the Christmas ads to make sure Santa leaves a pile of follow links under the tree? Create a story that taps into people’s emotions, avoid getting too bogged down in the product, do your research and remain socially relevant. Don’t be afraid to break the mould and take reactive PR opportunities that your competitors gift you.

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