Giles Keeble: were these the ideas behind the UK’s Christmas ad show stoppers?

As a postscript to Paul Simons’ piece on Christmas ads, a few thoughts on the ideas that may lie behind them.

Paul writes about the stock room of Christmas props, both pagan Santa stuff and co-opting Christian music and imagery. There is inevitably a lot of tinsel trash but it also presents an opportunity to play off it, as Mulberry does with its ‘Bag in a Manger’ ad.

But if we try to imagine the briefing, is the main idea ‘Christmas’ and this year’s ‘idea’ the execution? After all, this is retail and at some point you want people to buy your stuff not the same stuff elsewhere.

So you have the props, and you have what commercial Christmas is all about – giving and receiving. (For any clergy reading, I did write ‘commercial’). But isn’t it only about sharing if we are talking about food and drink? I’m not sure women given Mulberry bags are going to want to share them.

As a result, Christmas ads tend to show a lot of product, accompanied by a song (is this the idea!?). If more thought is given, the products will be part of a story, or there may be a series of vignettes, which can be charming if well done.

Or, a team may look at it all differently, as Harvey Nicks has done so well over the years.

But to go back to this year’s Xmas game – trying to imagine how the agencies got to the ads they made. With Sainsbury’s it is hard, I think: the area is ‘sharing’ but unless the Mog book came first, it is quite an interesting and unpredictable leap, though I suppose it could have been ‘Xmas disaster, neighbours rally round, execution? Hmm – Mog?.

The John Lewis ad may be easier: did someone spot that Christmas Day was a full moon? Then maybe- Man on the Moon, lonely, remember, give present? Or (after Snowman and Bear etc) think about someone this Christmas, who is alone, old people, Man on the Moon, Full Moon – campaign!?

It’s not always easy to say exactly what sparks an idea. James Webb Young’s book, written many years ago, does give ‘A Technique for Producing Ideas’ and is still worth reading. The subconscious gets to work on the problem you have been consciously thinking about. You’ll get an idea, or Father Christmas isn’t Santa. Whether it’s a good one is another matter.

So if you have any answers to what the ideas are this festive season, and how they might have arisen, answers on a Christmas card please.

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About Giles Keeble

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Giles Keeble started as a rep (account man) at JWT before moving to BMP. There Stanley Pollitt told him that JWT’s Stephen King had wanted him to become a planner. John Webster encouraged him to become a writer but after a number of years Giles moved to French Gold Abbott and, for a while, did become a planner of sorts. Returning to writing he went to David Abbott’s new agency AMV followed by WCRS and was then ECD of Leo Burnett for six years. He then returned to AMV before moving to Publicis and then Lowe in Hong Kong at the inception of the ‘World’s Local Bank’ campaign for HSBC. He now works as a writer and strategist as well as running advertising courses for senior clients.