Bublé, Snapper and Kevin – Did the Christmas Ads Bring Christmas Cheer for Retailers?

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Image of Christmas shopping in the Great Western Arcade, Birmingam
Image from visitbirmingham.com

By Professor Sarah Montano, Deputy Head of Marketing

Every year we anticipate our favourite Christmas ads and wait to see which ones will spark off our emotions! As always, John Lewis’ ad is highly anticipated, but do emotional ads result in spending in-store for the retailers? Let’s look back at the Christmas ad themes of 2023 and see how the themes translated into spending.

Why are Christmas ads so important?

Christmas is a vital time for retailers, and it is the so called “Golden Quarter” when retailers need to maximise their profits to help carry them through the quieter times of the year. Simply put, retailers want customers to choose them over their competitors, so the ads are a way to cut through the competition and appeal to customers. 2023 was a challenging time for all retailers particularly with rising inflation that reached a peak of 19% in March 2023. The sad loss of Wilko from our high streets illustrates how difficult the year was. Therefore, Christmas ads are therefore important to stimulate customer spending and if the retailer has a cuddly friend in the ad – that is a bonus as retailers will then sell the associated toys and products. John Lewis said that there 2023 Snapper ad is the most shoppable yet, as not only can you buy a cuddly Snapper but also a book, decorations and pyjamas. Most of the Christmas ads are emotional and want customers to feel a range of emotions from a reminder of the wonder of childhood, to sadness at a banished plant to the great joy when the family celebrate outside with the plant. Emotions are used by the retailers to get us to engage with the retailer, the more emotional the ad, the more likely we are to remember the retailer and the trust when making our purchases.

What were the themes of 2023?

As always there were a range of Christmas ads to stir the emotions! A key trend from 2023 was “Christmas Your Way,” a range of lovable friends and an array of celebrity guest stars. Let’s look at each theme.

Christmas Your Way:

A core theme in the John Lewis and M&S ads was – do Christmas your way and celebrate your family unit. The M&S ad catchphrase was “Love Thismas, Not Thatmas” and encouraged people to do what you love at Christmas and not what you don’t. On a similar theme the highly anticipated John Lewis ad brought us Snapper the Venus Fly Trap as an alternative tree and encouraged customers to “let your traditions grow.”


Nostalgia was a big theme with many of the accompanying songs to the ads are from the 1980’s and 1990’s, why was this? Well, those doing the cooking and Christmas shopping will have been teenagers in 1980’s and 1990’s and so they will immediately recognise the songs be reminded of their younger days and probably sing along! Waitrose have “I just can’t get enough” from Depeche Mode, Morrisons “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us” from Starship and M&S Clothing and Home “I would do anything for love” by Meatloaf. Amazon’s ad was pure nostalgia with three older ladies sledging down a hillside, part way through the ad we saw the ladies transformed into their younger selves reminding them of the joy they have sledging together.

Lovable Friends:

It is not Christmas without some loveable friends! Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot was back and inspired by the new Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Movie, Kevin won a ticket to visit a Christmas Factory and encouraged everyone to “Share the Love this Christmas.”  From John Lewis it was time for Snapper the Venus Fly Trap! The seed grows into a bit of a naughty plant, so Snapper gets sent outside but is sad and misses the family, the ad ended with the family starting a new tradition of opening their presents with Snapper. Lidl’s ad had a dedicated racoon who desperately tries to reunite a little boy with his cuddly toy and then becomes friends with the family dog.

Guest Stars:

There are always and array of celebrity stars! From Graham Norton in Waitrose, Dawn French as a fairy for M&S food, Zawe Ashton, Sophie Ellis Bextor, Tan France and Hannah Waddingham in M&S Clothing and Home and Alison Hammond for Debenhams and of course Mr. Christmas himself – Michael Bublé for Asda! Did you work out who the mittens were in the M&S food ad – well they were none other than Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney!

Did the ads translate into spending for customers?

For retailers the indications are that unfortunately the Golden Quarter did not glisten this year. On the 19th January 2024, the ONS released their data that shows that retail sales unexpected fell by 3.2%. This has been somewhat of a shock as early indications were that supermarkets had done well with Friday 22nd December being the most popular day for grocery shopping with over 25million supermarket visits and £803 million spend in-store. There was a last minute Christmas rush on Super Saturday with a predicted £2.5billion spend over the two days. Individual retailers such as Sainsburys’ have stated that they enjoyed a record year and therefore achieved their highest market share of 15.8%. Aldi and Lidl also enjoyed a record Christmas with sales for Aldi of over £1.5billion and Lidl sales up 12% year-on-year. M&S Food have also had a good Christmas with almost 29% of households shopping there.

Why was the golden quarter not so golden? Early-stage analysis suggests that as Black Friday (24th November) and Cyber Monday (27th November) were in November rather than Decembers customers looking for a Christmas bargain spent early rather than in December, which is why November had an increase of 1.4%. Online sales also fell to 27.6% of all retail sales from a 2023 high of 30.7% in November. Crucially, we are looking at sales volumes here rather than just sales, as just looking at sales can give incorrect picture, as increases in sales can be driven by price increases. Overall, we saw food store sales volumes fall by 3.1% and non-food by 3.9% (following an increase of 2.7% in November). It is clear that with the cost-of-living affecting customers throughout 2023, bargain hunting was the strategy this year. This is disappointing news and a reminder that the retail sector is going to be challenging in 2024, with little respite in sight.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham.

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