Christmas With a Warm Heart & a Conscience

Posted on Posted in retail strategy

Perhaps it’s a natural response to the cold Northern Hemisphere winter, but once again this year, UK retailers have created campaigns to melt hearts.

Department store John Lewis has just released its annual Christmas blockbuster TV commercial, reputed to have cost A$9 million. Everything about this 90-second spot says “big event”, and it’s really more a mini-movie than a telly ad. Like a movie, it has a title – “The Journey”. And also as with many epics, it was shot in an exotic location – New Zealand.

The commercial opens with children making a snowman and snowwoman outside a picture-perfect stone cottage, deep in the midst of a snow-covered landscape, way out in the middle of nowhere. But before they have an opportunity to wrap a scarf around the snowwoman’s neck, the kids are called inside.

Next morning, the snowman has mysteriously vanished, and we then follow his quest as he traverses the countryside in search of the perfect presents for his true love – a scarf, gloves and matching woolen hat.  When he returns triumphant, you can almost hear the collective sigh of an appreciative British nation perched on the edge of their couches.

The soundtrack to “The Journey” features Gabrielle Aplin, a little-known 20-year-old singer-songwriter, warbling “The Power of Love”, the1984 hit from Frankie Goes to Hollywood. And if past John Lewis Christmas ads are any guide, the song may well become a top 10 hit.

Meanwhile, the venerable UK retailer Marks & Spencer is warming hearts and opening minds in its own unique way. M&S is a merchant with a strong social and community conscience, and its Christmas television commercial makes history by being the first British spot to include a model with a learning disability.

Four-year-old Seb White has Down’s Syndrome and was included after his mother posted his picture on the M&S Facebook page, to point out the absence of disabled kids in advertising. M&S responded by photographing Seb for their print holiday catalogue, and he performed so well that he was invited to feature in the TV spot. (Watch for Seb in the children’s scene – he is having an absolute ball and it’s a joy to behold.)

Seb’s inclusion is not gratuitous, or out-of-character for M&S. Earlier this year, they further demonstrated their commitment to considered consumption by launching a “Shwopping” campaign, which asked customers to “shwop” their old clothes at M&S before buying new ones. The discarded garments would then be resold, reused or recycled through Oxfam.

Both John Lewis and Marks & Spencer are making big, brave statements with their respective Christmas campaigns. Fundamentally, it’s about recognising that the spirit of Christmas is more than material, and that by focusing on emotion, you evoke a deep and genuine response from customers which will translate into purchases the till. And when you think about it, that’s pretty rational.

It’s high time some big-hearted Aussie retailers followed the lead of our Northern cousins.  How about it, DJ’s or Myer?

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