Why Christmas Adverts Love to Tug on Your Heartstrings

Christmas television advertising has taken on a new shape in recent years, with the excitement surrounding ads from retailers like John Lewis and Sainsbury’s reaching levels only matched by TV spots during the Super Bowl in America.

These emotionally charged adverts are tapping into the public consciousness with increasing number. Every year we find ourselves saying “it’s not Christmas until you’ve seen…” in regards to a piece of advertising – a practice dating back to the famous 90’s Coca-Cola ad “Holidays are Coming”.

These modern adverts have set out to incite strong emotions in their viewership – be they positive or negative. The 2015 campaign from John Lewis – “Man on the Moon” – tugged on the heartstrings of viewers across the UK with its own brand of ‘sadvertising’, while Sainsbury’s controversial “1914” ad from 2014 similarly aimed to bring a tear to the eye – though with sentimentality and poignancy rather than sadness.

In 2016, after what is generally considered a rather dower year, most retailers moved into a more heart-warming (rather than breaking) direction. John Lewis introduced the world to Baxter the bouncing Boxer and Sainsbury’s moved away from the trenches to a story of family togetherness with their “The Greatest Gift” campaign.

Nearly all of these campaigns were received with a great deal of success – though mileage did vary – and this is in large part thanks to their emotional focus. According to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, an emotional advert is twice as likely to generate profit. Not only that, but repeated use of emotional advertising has a cumulative effect on a brand’s profit increases. Indeed, the recently released set of 2017 Christmas ads sees many companies, including Heathrow Airport, John Lewis and M&S, continue with the emotional angle.

Studies into psychological decision-making show that our emotional response to a brand is key to our choices – not our reason or logic. Ultimately, our feelings towards an advert are more likely to influence our shopping choices than the actual content itself. Very few people will admit to being guided by something as irrational as feelings, however and in general, we don’t actualy realise that we are. As consumers, we consciously believe that the content is important and often convince ourselves that it is the content that influences our decisions – even if it isn’t. As Douglas Van Praet author of “Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing” once said – ‘We feel our way to reason.’

This emotional method of advertising isn’t limited to TV adverts however. It can be applied to print adverts, posters, billboards and blog posts! Even with only the 140 characters offered to digital marketers for a Google PPC advert; tiny miracles can be achieved by using the same techniques as British retailers at Christmas time.

While trying to make people weep in fewer characters than a twitter post might be difficult, marketers can still make great use of other emotional responses. Some of the more popular ones include fear – as in the fear of missing out (FOMO) on that soon to end sale. It doesn’t matter if the sale is actually ending or not – just the fear that it might can boosts sales. Another favourite is affirmation – making people feel supported and positive about their purchasing decisions.

Christmas retailers appeal to consumer’s emotions because it works. It’s a great way to get shoppers through their doors (or onto their website) and making purchases. But they’re not the only ones who can take advantage of this little psychological titbit! If you want to develop the emotional power of your brand, then why not get in touch? You can give us a call on 0121 321 2828 or email us at studio@creativeinsight.co.uk