In the last couple of weeks, we've seen the first of this year's high-profile Christmas advertising campaigns. As is par for the course, a great many of these have been fairly large-scale efforts noticeably driven less by overt reference to products and sales, and more by narratives that appeal to the emotions of viewers.
Amongst 2019's myriad examples are a campaign from Sainsbury's playing on their 150th anniversary to draw on the Victorian iconography underpinning much Christmas tradition, an inventive Michel Gondry-directed short for HP that promotes limiting screen time during the festive season, and, of course, John Lewis' fantasy-themed offering.
In keeping with the character of the season, what these campaigns all share in common is their drawing on ideas of compassion, togetherness, wonder, and nostalgia. While this is obviously all well and good when it comes to striking an emotional chord with audiences, it raises the question as to what the brands themselves stand to gain from this kind of content — especially considering the huge amounts of money spent on these campaigns.
Writing for Brand Refinery, Thomas Graham notes that – Christmas being a time that is typified by nostalgia and tradition – the aim of many brands is to stand out amongst the vast competition, differentiating themselves by working to establish the association between their brand and the audience's idea of Christmas.
“Reminding an audience of emotions experienced in their past can make them look more fondly on them as a brand. This is because these positive emotions are now tied to the brand itself.”
But of course, though techniques like this are most prevalent during this season; emotional storytelling is, by no means, just for Christmas. Writing for The Drum, Emma Mulcahy affirms this, acknowledging why it's so important for marketers to work at establishing deep, long-term emotional connections with their audiences:
“For brands seeking long-term loyalty, it isn't enough just to meet needs. Marketers need an engaging long-term conversation to create meaningful, human connections with consumers. ... Creating marketing which resonates with customers leaves a lasting impression, serving the brand well in the long-run.”
Such methods can work effectively for a variety of industries. Take Travel Oregon's ‘Only Slightly (More) Exaggerated' ad, which depicts an animated re-imagining of Oregon – blending real landmarks with fantastical environments and creatures.
Speaking to Creative Moment, Ansel Wallenfang of Wieden + Kennedy – the agency behind the ad – described the impetus behind this creative decision:
“Our goal … is to visualise the emotional experience of visiting Oregon. By using animation, we are able to capture experiences that go beyond traditional travel films, while also feeling unique to our state.”
This decision to focus on creatively and memorably illustrating the subjective emotional experience of travel is a particularly smart one for a tourism brand to make. They're offering personal experiences just as much (if not more than) they're offering the objective characteristics of the location.
The consumer tech industry is another example of an industry for which emotional storytelling can be particularly beneficial. The main challenge that such brands face is that their products can be fairly alienating to the general public: the technical aspects that the engineers who design these products may view as selling points can easily come across as cold and unrelatable to the average person.
Reporting from a consumer electronics trade show, 6P Marketing quoted Intel's VP Global Creative Director, Teresa Herd, as saying:
“To make it interesting, we need to talk about how the humans will actually be better off â engage with buyers' emotions and speak to the real-world benefits, not just the functionality. We need to tap into the human truths that are also entertaining.”
This is something that can be seen in countless tech ads. One particularly notable example is Apple's Sam Mendes-directed 2010 advertisement for the FaceTime feature, which is less interested in the brand's technical accomplishment and more interested in showing how the product can be used at all stages of a person's life. As a contemporary review from Cnet remarked:
“Apple's excellent [adâ¦] brings together the sheer warmth and humanity of Apple products that other brands crave â¦ When you're selling FaceTime, you go with the face. That way, you'll get straight through to the heart.”
So, when seeing this year's festive advertisements; consider whether anything from these kinds of ads can be applied to your own marketing strategy.
Whether it's Christmas time or not, looking beyond the objective benefits of a product or service and thinking about how you can illustrate an emotional connection is certainly a strategy worth considering as you build your brand.