Could Christmas TV ads work just as well online?

John Lewis Christmas ad 2013The annual Christmas TV commercial is an important point in the calendar year for advertisers and consumers alike, but will we ever see the day where one of the big retail brands bypass TV all together and launch their Christmas campaign purely online? Paps Shaikh, European GM, Say Media explores the pros and cons around whether it’s possible to create a new tradition in the digital space.

Christmas; It’s an expensive time of year for brands and a lot of time and effort goes into creating a spectacular television commercial (TVC). And it’s no surprise. Not only is it an important point in the calendar year for advertisers, but also for consumers. Each year, they will eagerly wait for that moment when the infamous Coca-Cola truck makes its way across their TV screen, a signal that “holidays are coming”.

This year has been a little bit different, however. John Lewis has pinned all its Christmas hopes on a £7m ad featuring a bear and a hare (pictured) while Marks & Spencer has pulled out all the stops with an all-star cast. Breaking away from what has been tradition for years, both retailing giants released their Christmas ad online, a few days ahead of their TV premiere. But will we ever see the day where one of these big retail brands bypass TV all together and launch their Christmas campaign purely online?

Of course, online is an integral part of any advertiser’s strategy at Christmas. The TV spot will generally feature a call-to-action to keep that engagement online because that’s where the purchase is happening. Indeed, consumers can also replay the TV ad in the digital space but television is still seen as the master screen at this time of year.

Christmas TV ads have a number of things in common – they tell a story (John Lewis), evoke an emotion (Sainsbury’s) or are just generally a great piece of creative. We know it works on TV, but surely this can just as easily be replicated in the digital space?

Not quite. Because the user experience in digital environments is not linear and it’s really hard because there isn’t a natural commercial spot between every site. In digital, there are no commercials. Your digital session isn’t broken up. You might spend three hours online – spend some time on site X, then visit site Y, then check your Facebook, Twitter etc. It’s not like the linear TV experience where it’s programming, advert, programming, advert, programming, advert.

On TV, there is a dramatic pause every 15 minutes between TV programming where consumers know that commercials are going to come on – they expect it and their mindset changes. If they are not fast-forwarding through the ads, they are relaxed and open to advertising, some may even look forward to it.

Online, it’s a lot more difficult for say John Lewis to find the right moment in the media experience, one that’s carved out for the user. It’s the same reason why banners are ignored – poor creative jammed in, interrupting the user experience.

So actually, it all comes down to well placed content. Because of the nature of how a user is spending their time online, the ad needs to sit within the content because there are no clear slots between content and ads in the online experience. That’s why native content has such a bigger part to play – it becomes a part of how media is consumed. Integrating ad messages in and around content is seamless and it’s not interrupting the user experience either.

Yes, you could throw loads of impressions around in the digital space but that doesn’t guarantee anything. If brands are going to be bold enough to break away from the annual Christmas TVC tradition, the trick will be to replicate the creative, emotional and storytelling elements of the content that consumers crave at this time of year and find the right moment to seamlessly integrate into their digital media experience.

Paps Shaikh is European General Manager at Say Media.