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Christmas Ads: More Than Just Warm & Fuzzy



INFLUENCER: RAPP's Perla Bloom says advertisers should be braver with their emotional response toolkit, especially during times where customers aren’t expecting it

Christmas Ads: More Than Just Warm & Fuzzy

Intense discussions, heated debate and groups of marketers huddled around a computer screen. It can only mean one thing – the Christmas ads are out again. 

Christmas time in marketing shifts quite dramatically from the emotional tone of the rest of the year, to tap into people’s feelings of nostalgia. For the better part of a decade, in the UK at least, that all important warm and fuzzy feeling has been evoked by cinematic brand films, highlighting the impact of giving rather than receiving - accompanied by a classic pop anthem cover. The big brands, like John Lewis, want us to feel warm and nostalgic so that we associate their brand with those feelings, based on the assumption that those positive emotions are what makes the biggest impact. 

Yet, this isn’t the only way to increase likeability and brand fame, as 2018’s Christmas crop are proving. Some brands, like Boots, M&S and Waitrose have taken a harder-nosed stance by including products as well as tugging at our heartstrings or making us laugh. Waitrose chose the funny (and realistic in my experience!) route with the storyline of a girl who’s more interested in food than male attention. Boots chose to highlight one girl’s relationship with her mum, and M&S went for the straight product play of 'which is your M&S favourite?'.

However, it’s Iceland’s 'banned' ad about deforestation that has really ‘won’ Christmas. It’s moved on from the warm fuzzy feeling rule, and actually abides by what we now know about emotional arousal – a psychological response in the brain that causes people to remember more, for longer.

In a psychology study I was involved in at the University of Leeds (where, unlike previous experiments on emotion, we showed unseen and original video clips to our participants), it was actually negative emotions defined as ‘fear’, ‘disgust’, ‘shame’ and ‘upset’ (measured on the standardised PANAS scale) that conveyed more emotional arousal than positive emotions, like ‘excited’, ‘enthusiastic’ and ‘proud’. 

The Iceland advert actually puts the findings of this research into practice. The ad opens with a seemingly innocent scene of a little girl with an orangutan running wild in her room and making a bit of a mess. When she asks why, the orangutan answers that she no longer has a home because humans are destroying it to harvest palm oil, a story that touches on our feelings of shame, anger and fear about that damage humanity is doing to our planet.

Our study found that showing multiple negative images in a short space of time, caused people to disengage and turn away, thus protecting themselves from fully experiencing the intended emotional arousal in the test. So when we apply this to real life marketing, this further supports the notion that brands need to work hard at getting the audience invested in the story, before trying to evoke a 'negative' emotional response.

Iceland’s story seems lighthearted at first with its rhyming script and animated characters. It is only when we reach the end, that we realise what has happened to the orangutan and her habitat. By approaching the subject in this way, instead of beginning with the shocking images of deforestation, it allows the viewer to become invested in the story, developing an interest in the characters and what happens next, to then be more effectively engaged by the conclusion. 

At the end, Iceland promises not to stock any products containing palm oil until the deforestation stops, adding authenticity to the message and diffusing any scepticism about their motivations.

No, their ad wasn’t ‘Christmas’ related but it was highly relevant at a time when climate change and environmental issues are more urgent than ever. And Iceland took advantage of a period when people are paying closer attention to ads and there is higher interest in advertising generally.

The ad is proof that brands can and should consider disrupting the emotional status quo when they have an important message - and not to be afraid of exploring negative emotions if it helps convey something meaningful. The study that I conducted as part of my dissertation demonstrates that emotional arousal (particularly negative emotion) improves memory, and Iceland’s ad is an instructive case study on the effectiveness of doing just this. What’s more, I know I’ll be using it as a a powerful example when a client wants to disrupt a category or venture into cause-related marketing.

So Christmas doesn’t  always have to mean warm & fuzzy. We can be braver with our emotional response toolkit, especially during times where customers aren’t expecting it. After all, perhaps there are only so many variations of ‘Your Song’ that consumers can bear!

Perla Bloom is junior strategist at RAPP UK

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RAPP, Thu, 22 Nov 2018 17:09:42 GMT