Storytelling and Holiday Commercials

Christmas-Present-2November has come and gone and we are deep in the thick of the holiday season. Maybe you’ve been listening to holiday music for weeks or maybe you held out until after Thanksgiving. Maybe you’re eagerly stalking weather websites for signs of flurries or maybe you are dreading the impending snow. Whether you’re ready or not, the holidays are here.

It’s the most wonderful time of year when companies and brands competitively vie for your gift-buying dollars. Holiday season means present buying season and every year companies try harder and harder to stand out from the crowd with catchy, memorable, and effective holiday commercials. Some holiday ads succeed. They are praised as pieces of advertising genius and are enjoyed over and over again on YouTube. Others become old after a few views and are quickly forgotten. What is it about some holiday commercials that place them in the advertisement hall of fame while others flop? It’s all in the storytelling.

This year’s (or any year’s) John Lewis Christmas commercial is an excellent example of a great story. The focus isn’t on buying presents or on John Lewis’ products. The only mention of the brand name is at the very end of the commercial but the ad itself is immediately associated with John Lewis because the company has built a legacy of amazing Christmas commercials. Viewers are so focused on the relationship between a little boy and his pet penguin that they almost forget that they are watching an advertisement – it’s that good of a story.

Apple’s 2013 holiday commercial is another example of great storytelling that puts the focus on the holiday and not on the company’s products. It feels more like watching a home movie than an advertisement. Not only does the ad tug at viewer’s heartstrings, it also shows customers how they can use Apple products to capture family moments and create their own stories. It is a story about storytelling – it doesn’t get more straightforward than that

Sure people like to hear how much they can save on holiday gifts and they respond well to portrayals of a cherub-faced, white-haired gentleman in a red suit and the sound of jingle bells – but merely combining these elements does not make for a memorable holiday commercial. The generic holiday ad that boasts layaway plans, discounts and deals, and a variety of gifts is forgotten as soon as the next ad starts. This kind of ad fades into the background noise of the crowded holiday gift market. If brands want to create an iconic holiday ad, they should stop reminding us how many gifts we have to buy and stop trying to tell us what our six-year-old niece wants for Christmas. Instead, they should tell us a story – that’s what customers really want for the holidays.

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