Upmarket department store John Lewis kicked off the modern British Christmas advertising era with its polished, emotional TV spots. But in the last few years German discount chain Aldi and its mascot, Kevin the Carrot, have taken the baton.
Aldi’s Christmas ads have scored at least 5 out of 5.9 stars for five years in a row and nabbed the top spot in effectiveness this year, according to research by measurement firm System1.
Behind this success isn’t simply that Kevin is a cute and likable carrot, which he is. Rather, the way Brits consume content has changed over the past few years, with repercussions on the kinds of stories that are most effective when told via connected TV (CTV) screens.
Increasingly, a combination of CTV’s growth and media fragmentation has propelled brands to opt for character-driven stories, as these characters can gain mass popularity first and then work across the myriad of other digital platforms that consumers are on.
“[Characters] work so well for Christmas ads because over the years, they work as an effective way to grab attention, get quick brand fluency, and evoke a positive emotional response,” says Jon Evans, chief customer officer at System1.
Enter Aldi’s viral series, with Kevin and his carrot family appearing on everything from long-form brand ads to short-form performance ads. And then there’s Lidl’s goofy raccoon, M&S’ wholesome fairy, and Morrison’s singing oven gloves (all representing grocers). Debenhams and Asda have opted for celebrity star power this year, with Alison Hammond and Michael Bublé respectively, while sports retailer JD Sports is shining the spotlight on its iconic yellow bag.
Two- or three-minute-long story-driven ads — John Lewis’ go-to format during Christmases of years past — are harder to adapt to short-form digital platforms. Indeed, this year the retailer has handed its Christmas ad fortunes to a pesky Venus flytrap plant posing as an alternative Christmas tree.
“The shift from heartwarming, story-driven Christmas ads to funny, character-driven ads, which is the big change of the last five years, goes hand in hand with platform evolution,” says Evans. “It’s hard to tell a big story in a pre-roll or TikTok vertical, but it’s very easy to show off a memorable character in that space.”
“This is particularly relevant for CTV, as it is often used for targeting particular segments with special offers,” he adds.
More Kevins could pop down the chimney
The rise of CTV isn’t just impacting what stories get told over Christmas, but also who’s telling them. Smaller brands, traditionally excluded from the British Christmas ad arms race, have carved out space for themselves in recent years, with some launching their first Christmas ads ever.
This year, they include adult store Lovehoney, arts and crafts chain The Works, and clothing retailer FatFace. Advertisers are set to spend 9.5 billion pounds over Christmas this year, up 4.8 percent from last year, as research conducted by the Advertising Association this year shows that nearly half (48 percent) of adults surveyed say Christmas ads help spark gift ideas.
“CTV and efficiencies in production technology have opened the door for more retailers than ever to enter what used to be the cost-prohibitive closed shop of Christmas TV advertisers,” says Jon Goulding, CEO at creative agency Atomic, which has worked on Christmas ads for Greater Anglia Railway and Homebase.
“That means more choice and more competition, and that’s only good news for consumers,” he adds.
For advertisers big and small, CTV’s targeting capabilities can optimize ad delivery and budgets to help reach consumers across a fragmented media landscape at the best times.
“My big hope is that CTV will mean that people who want to revel in a brand’s three-minute ode to festive joy can, while smart digital wizardry will pop down the chimney with bite-sized chunks of relevant celebratory content for everyone else,” says Dan Cullen-Shute, CEO and founder at creative agency Creature London.
While not all may be able to compete with Kevin the Carrot or Britain’s other major brands for consumers’ hearts and shopping baskets, CTV is at least giving them a fighting chance.
“We’re launching a Christmas TV ad for Greater Anglia Railway, something unachievable before,” says Goulding. “Who would have thought a regional train operator could go toe-to-toe with Tesco?”