Topping the UK Christmas charts

With the big day quickly approaching, the Christmas advertising season is in full-swing. Constant bombardment from every angle, TV, radio, print, you name it, there’s Santa (or some derivative). ZenithOptimedia has recently revealed that nearly £310m will be spent globally this December on advertising, a sharp jump from 2014, whereby £287m was the reported spend. One is then left to wonder, what makes Yuletide content sticky? Furthermore, how can it be quantified and who will take home this year’s bragging rights?

Any consumer who’s stayed even remotely attuned to this years advertisements, can vouch; there are some pretty impressive pieces. However, who will top the UK Christmas charts this year? The two current, and most viable, contenders of the #1 spot, are Sainsbury’s and John Lewis. According to Youtube views, Sainsbury’s is “leading”- by about a million. Is this measure sufficient in naming at a true “winner”? At Brainsights, we were determined to find out.

Taking an evidently more comedic approach, Sainsbury’s has leveraged the talents of children’s writer Judith Kerr. “Mog’s Christmas Calamity” stars a clumsy feline, who isn’t having the best of luck. After a series of unsettling events, Mog sets fire to the Christmas tree, which initially appears to have ruined Christmas Eve. In the end, thanks to the joint efforts of the neighbours, the Thomas family is able to have a Christmas after all. The advert classically concludes with friends celebrating the holidays together, narrating; “they can share ours.”

On the other hand, John Lewis has chosen to yank on heartstrings. Lily, a young girl who is constantly seen gazing into a telescope, spots an elderly man on the moon. Evidently isolated living in a shed, he appears visibly lonely. Lily tries to attract the man’s attention, but despite her efforts, she is unsuccessful. A few days later on Christmas day, the man receives a gift- cleverly delivered by a bundle of balloons. The girl has given the man a telescope, so he too, can see her. The commercial beautifully brings forth the joys of giving.

Although both artful done, the question still remains, how is one to settle the score? Brainsights, a communications consultancy, specializes in applying consumer neuroscience and a data-based approach to content evaluation. Three distinct, yet highly intertwined measures aid in levelling the scorecard: attention (e.g., overall audience engagement), emotional connection (e.g., how is the consumer responding to the content? What type of emotion effect has it had?) and encoding (e.g., what is the likelihood the viewer will remember the ad?). Surely, we can disentangle which aspects have most effectively landed with the audience.

On a second-by-second basis, we broke down what made the Sainsbury’s cheeky plot so effective. First off, we would like to note, Mog really did steal the show. As reflected in significantly higher audience engagement scores, the moments whereby we were first introduced to Mog, seem to really hit-home. We later see a distressed close-up of poor Mog, whilst the tree crumbles to the ground- again, the viewers are tuned in. Interestingly, the familiarity of the Sainsbury’s brand also seems to have a special place in the minds of the audience, as we see a spike during its’ reveal. Overall, deeper insight proved we really do like a good, old-fashioned story.

Applying the same methodology as above to Lily and the man on the moon, we teased- out seconds whereby viewers were most highly attended. A seemingly wise decision was selecting the ever-so popular Oasis track, Half the World Away; the musical selection was covered by an up and coming Norwegian artist. The exact moment the the melody begins, we observe a massive jump. Additionally, we observe an increase during scenes of personal connection and empathy. There is a close-up of the man’s seasoned face, and we are left almost staring into his telling eyes. The audience is immediately pulled in. The moments mentioned, alongside many others, show just how compelling an emotional story can be.

At first glance, each advert appears quite unique; light-hearted comedic hues versus raw emotion. However, after further consideration, it’s quite clear the differences aren’t so vast. One unavoidably recognizable aspect to each piece- they both arrive at the same conclusion, detailing what Christmas is “all about”. Moments embracing these joys shine through vividly. For the Sainsbury’s advert, whilst friends and family share the holidays together, engagement pops. During the John Lewis spot, the scene whereby the man is emotionally receiving a parcel, spikes.

Although creatively distinct, the bigger picture reveals messages of togetherness and sharing land best- period. Despite adopting massively different approaches, one thing remains clear, we are all touched by humanizing themes, a warmly welcoming finding. And in regards to who’s won this years battle- stay tuned for the final verdict- but perhaps, first place will be a shared title this year.

This story was originally written by Becky Waugh (Twitter: @beckywaugh) for Brainsights and uploaded to this blog at a later date.