It’s nearly Christmas — Let’s talk about the ads.

I originally wrote this in June 2014, so I’ve decided to update it and repost it. So if you feel like you’ve read it before — then maybe you have.

The John Lewis ad has dropped and for some that means it’s Christmas.

To get to this point though, in boardrooms and agencies up and down the UK and Ireland the first utterings of “Christmas Campaign” surely started sometime in June. Because Christmas is now our “Superbowl event” for advertising.

Get it right and its like adding nitroglycerine to a fire. The campaign takes off and it’s shared around as people tell us how it strikes just the right chords. But I, dear reader, am a bit of a cynic when it comes to Christmas ads.

Institutions churning out these feel good ads that are meant to make all our hearts melt and bid good tidings to the companies they are made for just don’t really wash with me. Particularly when they become so generic that it’s increasingly hard to determine which ad is for which brand.

The big Christmas ad has become so popular that, just like the Superbowl, we now rate which are our favourites. It’s become a sport amongst the media with many outlets asking you to vote for your favourite. There are even YouTube playlists you can go and watch them one after another, without interruption of say the TV show you actually want to watch.

Objectively though, remove all the branding and the tag lines, could you identify which ad belongs to which brand? Perhaps one of two of them you could, but I seriously doubt you’d get them all right.

In the race to produce “the most memorable Christmas ad ever” the ads are becoming increasingly the same.

We all know that Christmas shopping is about trudging through the shops. So the likelihood is that people would be visiting these stores. I’m not saying they don’t have to advertise. Of course they have to. But is making an ad that is so stylistically similar to your competitor the best spend of the media budget?

I have noticed a bit of a change in people’s reactions. Some are beginning to question these ads and the actual value they add. Do I think of shopping in Boots because a teenager is actually a big softie at heart and not a bag of hormonal irritation? Of course I don’t. And others, I think, are beginning to see this too.

There are exceptions. There always are. In this case the exception is the Guinness ad. But that’s because it’s actually quite a nice ad with a very simple message and it’s beautifully shot. It predates all the rest by quite a margin too so we all have a warm fuzzy feeling about it, especially in Ireland, as to us, it means the festive season has really begun. It’s not the first Christmas ad, but its tone and message is a far cry from the ones that currently exist. Its longevity is also an exception to the current norm too where each institution will roll out their new ad every year. Guinness simply dust off their one and ship it over to the stations again. It has resonance because we all remember it and how much we loved it the first time we saw it. We can’t resonate with the current ads. We never see them again!

Sometimes brands do nail it. Lego nailed it before. Released in November the “Let’s Build” ad has a beautiful narrative in which a young boy extols the relationship he has with his father and their shared love and joy found in Lego.

It takes 7 seconds for us to see the first bit of Lego, but the narrative is strong enough to keep us watching until then. Then for the next 53 seconds we are treated to scenes that are replicated around the world in houses from Denmark to New Zealand.

Did you see what they did there? They didn’t show any of the kits or special editions. They didn’t show Lego houses build from a kit or uniform in colour. They showed the real joy of Lego. Building shit from a mish-mash of colours and letting your imagination build a world around that. And doing it together, as a family. And then they built a lovely little social campaign around it encouraging people to upload images and videos of the shit they built with their kids. Getting people to share their joy filled moments with likeminded people and letting their imaginations meet. A beautiful thing indeed.

The message is simple. Let’s Build. So please. Let’s. Let’s start building campaigns that deliver messages that people can relate to and will want to respond to. Instead of trying to get them to buy some Hugo Boss™ aftershave for their moody teen.