Christmas celebrations. Picture: JAGADEESH NV / EPA
Christmas celebrations. Picture: JAGADEESH NV / EPA

With Christmas just days away, festive season advertising has perhaps been more low-key than usual – unsurprising, given that 2018 has been a tough year for retail, in SA and globally.

Peter Khoury, chief creative officer at TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris and chairperson of the Creative Circle, says that besides the John Lewis-Elton John TVC and Apple’s “Share your Gifts” campaign, there was little in the way of breakthrough holiday pieces. “Locally, the advertising has been largely of a retail hard sell variety, which seems to work better in this tough economic climate,” he says. “It feels to me as though brands went all out on Black Friday and Cyber Monday to overcompensate for what might be a bad holiday season in the weeks ahead.”

Though there weren’t any noteworthy big television commercial campaigns from local SA brands, Apple, John Lewis and McDonald’s internationally have all released the kind of campaign that create a fair amount of hype across media platforms, despite the fact that the challenging global economy has created an unexpected change in direction from the festive work usually produced by these brands.

British retailer John Lewis traditionally produces emotionally charged Christmas campaigns that tell a big story and tug at the heartstrings. The retailer’s festive season is eagerly anticipated each year and while 2018’s piece does not disappoint – it features musician John – it also illustrates a change in creative direction, which was needed to make the campaign as effective as possible, Ellen Hammett writes at

It was the 2017 “Moz the Monster” campaign that was the reason for the retailer’s change in direction. While the ad scored well when it came to engagement and views, it also elicited the lowest awareness of any of the John Lewis adverts over the past five years and generated the least amount of conversation.

John Lewis’ “The Boy and the Piano” is reported to be the least Christmas-orientated of all the retailer’s commercials, a feature which should help the campaign to retain longevity into 2019. The commercial is based on all the major moments in John’s career and focuses on the things that really matter at Christmas.

The fact that the advert has been created to resonate with audiences at other times of the year is a sign of the times – like many retailers, John Lewis had a difficult 2018, with profits dropping by 99%. Instead of reducing its advertising budget, the brand has continued to support television advertising, claiming that the emotional connections the brand creates with consumers over the festive season make it one of the most commercially valuable times of year for the retailer.

The big take-out

Christmas advertising has taken a change in direction to compensate for the challenging 2018 retailers have had in a tough economic climate.

In another point of departure from its usual strategy, for the first time John Lewis and Waitrose highlighted their partnership through a collaborative Christmas advert, which shows a family fast-forwarding through a John Lewis advert so that they can get to their festive feast from Waitrose faster.

Khoury’s second pick of the season, Apple’s “Share your Gifts” campaign, has creativity at the heart of it. It’s aimed at creatives and encourages them to be more confident and share their work with world. This message is communicated via an animated short film with an emotional soundtrack featuring 16-year-old newcomer to the music scene Billie Eilish, singing a song she wrote specifically for the campaign.

McDonald’s UK has also been noted in a post on for its Christmas offering, which for the third consecutive year features its “Reindeer Ready” advertising campaign. The campaign aims to show the role McDonald’s plays in consumers’ lives over the festive season.

This year’s instalment shows that while Santa Claus keeps going with a steady supply of mince pies, his reindeer need similar sustenance in the form of McDonald’s reindeer “treats” (a bag of carrots). To support the campaign, the reindeer treats will be on sale at McDonald’s over the festive season; there will also be giveaways and limited-edition festive items on the menu, and interactive digital experiences. This campaign is structured to feature a number of media firsts for the brand, to remind consumers that McDonald’s is there for them when they need it over the festive season.