The Christmas TV ad battle: a social perspective

John Lewis Christmas ad 2013The build up to Christmas has emerged as the UK’s version of ‘Superbowl’. It is the only time in the year when non-ad people are actually talking about advertising.

It all began with those familiar Coca-Cola trucks back in 1995. Today, it’s the UK’s biggest retailers who carry the torch.

Unlike the Coca-Cola ads of yesteryear, today’s ads have the benefit of social media support. A nice budget for video seeding and social spend can go a long way.

In 2013, consumers don’t have to wait a few days to see their favourite ad on TV again. They can rack up as many views as they like on retailers’ YouTube channels. Indeed, social is actually being used to launch Christmas ads. This year, John Lewis’ ad aired on YouTube 24 hours before the Saturday TV slot and Tesco premiered its Christmas ad on Twitter.

This online exposure could lead to a shorter shelf life for Christmas ads, but the impact is arguably heightened. More views over a shorter time period.

How does this affect the consumer / brand relationship? Are people greeting ads like the long lost friend that retailers like to think they are, or are they simply growing tired of the same old unavoidable twee gumpf being spoon-fed to them each November?

We looked at seven retailers (Asda, Debenhams, John Lewis, M&S, Morrisons, Tesco and Waitrose) and their performances for the first part of November (1-12) this year versus the same time period in 2012 to find out who is winning the Christmas ad battle.

Looking at the retailers’ official YouTube channels, John Lewis is absolutely running away with it. 5.6m views in comparison to second place M&S (560k views). Bearing in mind that M&S’s ad was launched four days earlier, that’s quite an incredible feat.

john lewis feat

According to our sources (Tony Thomas, Managing Director at Visibility IQ), John Lewis rely on organic seeding with very little paid for activities. The earned media is much more than the paid for activity.

M&S is the exact opposite, relying heavily on paid search. Search for the John Lewis ad on YouTube and you’ll find that M&S are buying the ad keyword.

Hats off to John Lewis for organically getting the ad where it needs to be – on people’s screens. Lots and lots of people’s screens.

YouTube winner: John Lewis
YouTube loser: Tesco

Engagement: Twitter mentions
Currently, John Lewis is winning this battle with 152k mentions on Twitter, an increase of 16.5% on last year’s figures.

Tesco is performing strongly with a reach of 148k, a 16.5% increase on 2012. Asda has also generated wide conversation online, with a reach of 69k.

asda 69k

It’s no coincidence that John Lewis is the only retailer to have really made the most of using a designated hashtag for the Christmas ad, which has undoubtedly helped to encourage online discussion.

Twitter winner: John Lewis
Twitter loser: Waitrose

Engagement: Twitter hashtags
#bearandhare, John Lewis’ hashtag, has been mentioned over 28k times on Twitter, with M&S’s hashtag (#magicandsparkle) mentioned over 3.5k times.

The hashtag sows the seed with the consumer that this ad is something to tweet about. It’s something that needs to be discussed. Instantly. It’s not a case of #bearandhare or #magicandsparkle being groundbreaking additions, but obvious inclusions. Surely a missed trick for the other five retailers. Expect to see more hashtags next November.

Hashtag winner: John Lewis
Hashtag losers: Pretty much everyone else

Engagement: Facebook
“The moment you’ve been waiting for. Our brand new Christmas TV ad…”

Facebook fans of any of these retailers would have been treated to this message or something very similar over the past week.

Facebook is a go-to launch platform for any brands showcasing new ads. Cover photos on the page are updated and weeks and weeks of teaser posts are drip-fed to the community. Hitchcockian suspense slowly building to the big reveal. Retailers would like to think so anyway.

M&S’s ad reveal on Facebook generated a whopping 160k interactions. That’s over two Old Trafford’s worth of interactions. Not bad. Asda totted up a very commendable 87k with John Lewis at 71k. Surprisingly, Waitrose appears to have ignored Facebook as a video hosting platform. No big reveal. No suspense. Just over 1k views for its latest Heston party range Christmas ad.

waitrose christmas ad

Facebook winner: M&S
Facebook loser: Waitrose

Five of the seven retailers have witnessed less negativity from consumers on Twitter around their 2013 Christmas ad when compared to 2012. Lessons have been learnt it seems – particularly for the likes of Asda.

Debenhams, John Lewis, M&S, Asda and Waitrose ads have all been greeted more positively this year, with only Morrisons and Tesco seeing an increase in negative comments on Twitter. Tesco has seen the biggest shift, moving from 7% negative in 2012 to 12% in 2013.

Those complaining labelled Tesco’s ad ‘depressing’ while others have taken exception with the music . Poor ol’ Rod Stewart.

John Lewis leads the way in terms of positive sentiment (28%), but hats off to Debenhams too, rising from 12% positive sentiment in 2012 to 15% this year.

Sentiment winner: John Lewis
Sentiment loser: Tesco

While social media undoubtedly helps to increase the levels of conversation and general positivity around the ads, it will be interesting to see how consumers are behaving towards them in a month’s time.

When Christmas is but a few days away and the ads have been discussed and shared on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for the best part of a month, the honeymoon period for the ads will be well and truly over.

Will we then see a change in sentiment? Or have the ads and their additional threads of activity on social media been purpose-built for longevity? Only time will tell.

James Honess is Community Manager at Kindred Agency. Follow them on Twitter @kindredagency.

  • jdunstan

    What about the Sainsbury’s ad? With crowd-sourced clips, i thought they nailed it better than the rest put together.

  • TJ

    Absolutely agree! However, Sainsbury’s ad wasn’t released during the same week as every other advert mentioned here – all of them have been released online by Friday, 8th November – I guess that’s the reason why it’s not included in the analysis.

  • TJ

    It’s rather hard to compare the buzz for John Lewis and any other ads, especially I do not think it’s fair to compare its’ organic performance and the fact they do not spend much on paid media!

    Most of people actually have been waiting for the new John Lewis Christmas ad based on the fact that their 2011 and 2012 have been awesome. People do not wait for Asda’s or Aldi Christmas ads. They wait for John Lewis, because they used to create (award-winning!) ads. This year they only stood out because of animal usage (surprise surprise, animals in the ad it’s actually a current trend; so nothing super creative) and… animation. Previous ads did have an original…down-to earth/ applicable-to-all-people idea.