What do a robin, a boxer dog, a cartoon character called Dave and Mrs Santa Claus have in common? It may sound like the start of a bad joke but this motley crew all have starring roles in 2016's Christmas adverts for major retailers.
So far, the M&S ad appears to be the biggest hit with viewers. It follows Mrs Claus who sets out to save a little boy’s Christmas. The boy, Jake, accidentally ruined his sister’s shoes playing with his dog and asks Mrs Claus to find her a new pair. The glitzy, Hollywood-style advert, shows Mrs Claus wave goodbye to Santa on his old-fashion sledge before she boards her high-tech red helicopter, named R-Dolf, to deliver Jake his Christmas wish.
Schmaltzy Christmas ads may have become something of an Christmas fixture but do they actually work? After all, the animal “heroes” at their core can blur into one.
Veteran retail analyst Nick Bubb is among those sceptical as to their effect on sales. He believes there is too much focus on Christmas ads by all the marketing gurus, as there is little evidence that they shift spending.
A backlash has already started in the sector. DIY retailer Robert Dyas was very quick off the mark in creating the first retailer-spoof of the John Lewis advert. And Tesco and Asda are moving away from launching one big Christmas ad in favour of running a number of videos looking to celebrate customers’ “Christmas moments”.
So what really makes a moneyspinning Christmas? Pricing power and stock availability are key, which means having products in stock at prices that do not need to be discounted. And multi-channel expertise is essential for organising deliveries or collections on time. Superlative customer service and a click and collect offering can set retailers apart.
They cannot afford to get it wrong. Footfall may have strengthened slightly in October but the high street remains under pressure from the relentless march of online shopping.
It may be time to knock the sentimental ad genre on the head and instead focus on what it takes to lift sales in the make-or-break festive season. Or would that just be bah-humbug?