Brands have long used sentimentality to draw custom at Christmas. John Lewis has been a standard-bearer for emotional Christmas placements, and this year's offering, which encourages donations to Age UK, is no different. Last year's "Monty the Penguin" spot has received 24m YouTube views, and the retailer's like for like sales grew by 4.8 per cent in the five weeks to 27 December. So do campaigns which pull at the heart-strings still pull as hard at the purse-strings?
A 2007 report by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising indicated that emotional campaigns outperform rational ones at every level. "Marketing in the Era of Accountability" concluded that, while emotional campaigns respond slowly to metrics like brand image and awareness, they delivered better business results in the long term compared with campaigns simply aiming to relay information about a product. But are we still susceptible to sentimentality in 2015?
Ross Farquhar, partner at 101, believes so. He cites Foster's, Hovis and John Lewis – all recent winners of the Grand Prix at the Industry Effectiveness Awards – as examples of brands which have stirred emotion and generated the greatest return. It is essential to find "the sweet spot between public mood and brand tone," he says. "The Christmas season is built around childhood and family, therefore any ads which play on nostalgia will likely be spot on in judging the public's mood."
Stephen Vowles, marketing director at Argos, sees a mixture of rationality, emotion and distinctiveness as key to successful brand advertising. "This year, the rational element of our advert relates to our delivery services – we're the only retailer offering same-day delivery on a nationwide basis." To reflect these services, Argos has gone for a highoctane spot, created by CHI&Partners, in which a team of skiers and snowboarders speeds down a mountain in Chile's Valle Nevado carrying products from Samsung, Nespresso and children's toys.
As well as providing information about Argos's services, Vowles thinks that action and vigour can also be emotional. "While the heartstrings approach has worked for some brands, we believe Argos stands for energy."
For those who do go sentimental, the challenge is to do so "authentically", says Farquhar. In Brand Immortality, Hamish Pringle and Peter Field say that an emotional approach must already be "hard-wired" into the brand to be successful, with a long-established commitment to it. Harriet Kilikita, cultural strategist at Added Value, doesn't think John Lewis has hit the mark this time. "The brand's role with Age UK, although a moving and positive action, is not given a clear role in the advert. There is no evident call to action, which could leave viewers feeling a little emotionally manipulated, rather than motivated to do something."