Matt Williams: the great ad conundrum – great in a minute, gone in thirty seconds

Maybe I’m more of a soppy git than I realised, but the Christmas ad that I think has been a bit overlooked amidst all the Sainsbury’s and John Lewis furore is Mother’s Boots spot.

The full ad is a beautifully crafted, heartwarming film that guarantees to leave a lump in the throat.

So I was very keen to make sure Mrs Williams sat down and gave it her full attention when it came on the TV last week.

As it started to play, it soon became apparent that this was only the 30-second cut down being broadcast, not the full film that I’d originally seen online. But surely that wouldn’t matter – Mrs Williams is a sentimental sort, so would still no doubt be completely charmed by the ad’s conclusion (well, even after three weeks Monty the Penguin only has to appear on screen for her to start blubbing).

29 seconds later and the reaction was not what I’d first expected. “It’s alright,” she said, “Quite nice I suppose.”

Had I built it up too much? Had I given away the plot twist and ruined the impact?

As it turns out that wasn’t the case. Instead, I watched back the ad she’d just seen, and the amazing Boots Christmas ad that I’d been raving about for days didn’t make the same impression again on me either.

The 30-second spot simply didn’t have the time to build up the sense of story and emotion in the way the full 60-second ad did. All the nuances and charming detail that made the brilliant insight come across so well were missing. Everything felt rushed, mismatched, and, dare I say it, a little bland.

“30-second ad not as detailed as 60-second ad” may not be a groundbreaking revelation. But the fact it changed the tone and perspective of such a brilliant ad is quite hard to take. And what’s more, we all know that it’ll be the 30 spot that most people are exposed to. So how do you combat this?

As far as I see it, there are a couple of considerations to make. Do you rethink the 60-second spot so that you can make more of the 30-second ad? Do you focus all your attention on the longer epic and not even make the short ad, feeling proud that the longer spot can stand alone, and not diminishing the campaign with a shortened version that doesn’t match up? Do you sanction a media blitz on the 60-second ad as the campaign kicks off, so by the time the shortened pieces gets aired everyone will be aware of the work and the 30 will spark nostalgic sentiment, not confusion?

I suspect there are arguments for all three approaches, as well as some lines of attack that I’ve neglected to mention. We’ve seen agencies take all three options before on various occasions – BBH with Yeo Valley (below), Wieden+Kennedy with Nike, and BETC with Canal+ as some industry-defining examples.

Even this year’s John Lewis Christmas ad is a good case in point. It’s a great spot – one of my favourites – but the 30-second piece isn’t exactly a classic when viewed as a standalone ad. But that doesn’t matter, because the media blitz that accompanied the launch of the 60, as well as the legacy that a John Lewis Christmas campaign has built, means that by the time people are exposed to the shortened spot, they’re already well aware of the overall campaign message.

Unlike Boots. And unlike so many campaigns that we glaze over, despite the creatives sitting in the background screaming “you’re missing the point – the four-minute epic that this cut down comes from is brilliant!”

But we all know that’s not how things work. Which is posing many a brand with a difficult question at this time of year. The challenge is, how do you answer it?

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