Christmas ads used to be all about selling product. Brands and retailers would dust off the Rat Pack Christmas album, add in some sparkly frocks and set the scene at a dinner party, office party or some other kind of party and there it was. Today though, those Christmas ads are spectaculars that have to build brand awareness, do some social/environmental good and set social media buzzing.
And they have to be emotionally engaging. So I was particularly interested in ICM Unlimited’s webcam survey that tracked consumer reaction to the ads from the big high street retailers.
They used webcams as part of a survey to capture emotions on faces during a screening of six festive ads. ICM Unlimited found that The Art of Christmas from M&S came top, just beating Sainsbury’s Mog ad as the most emotionally engaging ad. M&S was higher up the emotional engagement scale than any of the other ads tested using ‘facial coding’ and also beat Tesco, John Lewis, Asda and Boots.
ICM Unlimited and CrowdEmotion rated six ads based on a score for happiness, surprise, puzzlement, disgust, fear and sadness. Emotional engagement for the ads was compared against explicit appreciation – did audiences say that they enjoyed the ad? Based on the results, retailers fell into in one of four categories: Love It, Hate It, Needs Work or Guilty Pleasures.
Tom Wormald, director at ICM Unlimited, said: “In surveys, people claim they don’t respond to – or are not influenced by – TV advertising. But using a webcam we can prove we go on an emotional rollercoaster when watching commercials, meaning the ads are influencing our attitudes and behaviours in ways we often don’t even realise.
“The M&S ad sat firmly in our ‘Guilty Pleasures’ category because although people claimed not to like it, the emotional response shows that it brings a lot of ‘happiness’. Sainsbury’s triggered a positive ‘puzzlement’ response driven by curiosity about the storyline. A fast-paced but disjointed narrative from Boots registered a sense of ‘fear’ – it made people feel uncertain. We even detected a sense of ‘disgust’ in responses to some ads, possibly because viewers might feel manipulated by some parts of an advert.”
This is what ICM said about each one:
M&S – The Art of Christmas: Winner in ‘emotional engagement’ – happiness everywhere
This came up top as the most emotionally engaging advert, filled with extravagant visuals and using Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk as the soundtrack. Upbeat and colourful, peppered with images of gift giving, feasting and excitement, this ad closes nostalgically with fleeting images of Morecambe & Wise. The ad really takes off with shots of children waking then jumping excitedly on beds. Here the facial expressions were all about happiness – 133% higher than the norm of the ads tested.
Sainsbury’s – Mog’s Christmas Calamity: Curiosity and the cat make this a favourite
High explicit appreciation and emotional engagement contributed to the success of this ad. Viewers experienced ‘fear’ at the start because when people see cute animals their protective instincts kick in – and that translates into fear of danger. But the ad’s humour quickly produces high scores for ‘happiness’, some 85% above the ad norm when Mog is spun around on a ceiling fan in the kitchen. The Sainsbury’s story created a strong sense of ‘puzzlement’ and curiosity too – scoring 150% higher for these emotions than the John Lewis ad.
Tesco finest Range – Flirt: Puzzlement and disgust
The sight of an awkward young man trying to impress a confident older woman with his tastes in desserts, cheese and wine also brought mixed emotions. There was ‘puzzlement’ about whether the flirty son would be put in his place. The young man’s insistence on seeking the older woman’s attention created a sense of ‘disgust’. But ‘happiness’ peaks when the young man’s mother arrives to put him down by showing her son some boys-sized pyjamas.
John Lewis – Man on The Moon: Experience the full range of emotions
This is the ad everyone wanted to hate (low explicit appreciation scores), but secretly loved (sound emotional engagement scores). Featuring a young girl making contact with the Man on the Moon, the ad is unusual and resulted in higher ‘surprise’ scores (40% more than Sainsbury’s Mog the Cat). It also registered ‘disgust’, with viewers possibly rejecting the ad for its use of feelings of guilt and pathos towards the elderly. Man on the Moon also scored 22% more ‘sadness’ compared to Mog the Cat.
Asda – Because it’s Christmas: Cute Pug dog with antlers hits the high point
Asda’s ad performed poorly on ‘explicit appreciation’ and ‘emotional engagement’. Despite the upbeat soundtrack and visuals, viewers felt the ad lacked a clear narrative. But there were some high points with ‘happiness’ surging to 60% above the norm when the cute Pug dog with antlers appears.
Boots – Discover More: Peaks of fear and disgust sprinkled with some happiness
Viewers saw the Boots ad as lacking a narrative. There were small peaks of ‘fear’, possibly due to a sense of disorientation as the ad moved quickly from scene to scene. Viewers also registered spikes of ‘disgust’, probably due to the heavy emphasis on product placement and limited human interaction, which can leave audiences feeling manipulated. Near the end there are small peaks of ‘happiness’ as a woman finally makes eye contact and waves to viewers.