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The Evolution of Christmas Marketing

The Evolution of Christmas Marketing main image

Christmas is a matter of days away, but we’ve been bombarded with seasonal marketing for months now.

More than likely you will have seen endless deals, offers, promotions and campaigns popping up everywhere from your TV to billboards. But how did it all start? We did a little digging to see how Christmas marketing has changed over time.

Christmas crackers

In 1847, Tom Smith took a trip to Paris and discovered the ‘bonbon’  - a sugared almond wrapped in a twist of tissue paper and containing a love motto.

By 1849, the almond had been replaced by trinkets, jewelry and toys, and by 1860 Smith designed the cracking mechanism that made the ‘snap’ we know today.

Following his death in 1880, the business was taken over by his sons Tom, Walter and Henry. It was Henry who had the idea to introduce paper hats and he toured the world for unusual gift ideas.

In 1906, Tom Smith received their first Royal Warrant from the Prince of Wales, entitling them to become members of the Royal Warrant Holders Association in 1909. In fact, the Royal Family still use Tom Smith crackers at Christmas today.

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Christmas TV adverts

Although household TVs became more prevalent from the 1950s onwards, it wasn’t until the 1980s that TV Christmas adverts appeared on our screens.

Oxo were one of the first brands to air a festive ad and brought the magical festivities of Christmas to our screens for over a decade. Similarly, Woolworths produced short adverts to encourage customers to shop with them over the festive season - and went to great lengths to ensure their ads aired at the most lucrative time of day. 

By today’s standards, the adverts were fairly basic, focusing on comedy and lightheartedness rather than creating a big-budget extravaganza like the latest John Lewis advert.

In the early 2000s, British supermarket brand Marks and Spencer ruled the Christmas advertising world with tantalizing, food-coma inducing adverts which showcased their festive food and drink selection.

Their famous slogan, “This is not just food, this is M&S food” paired with images of juicy turkey, crispy roast potatoes and a flaming Christmas pudding, soon became synonymous with a British Christmas.

UK consumers spend about £30bn in the so-called "golden quarter" leading up to Christmas, according to market research company Kantar, and so Christmas adverts have evolved to become more and more elaborate.

A great Christmas advert helps retailers cut through all the excess noise around the holidays and drums up a conversation around stores.

Ads also create merchandising opportunities – like British supermarket Aldi’s popular Kevin the Carrot toy, which is based around the character in its ads. 

But the big advert everyone really looks out for is…

John Lewis

UK department store John Lewis has led the way in TV Christmas advertising for several years now. Their advert is always the most anticipated and exact details of what the advert will contain are kept shrouded in mystery until its release.

John Lewis’s first advert, “Shadows”, in 2007 was simple by the standards of this year’s advert, while subsequent years have introduced us to ‘Monty the Penguin’, the ‘Man on the Moon’, and ‘Excitable Edgar’.

These adverts - designed to make you laugh and cry in equal measure - have a monumental budget – some cost £8m to make – however, this is justified by the spike in sales that reportedly follows each ad's release.

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Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola is another brand which mastered the iconic Christmas advert. One of the first festive Coca-Cola ads aired back in 1958 – a wholesome depiction of a family of four sledging down a hill, making a pit stop for a Coke before sliding right up to their fireplace.

But the advert they’re best-known for is the much-loved ‘Holidays are Coming’ ad – first aired in 1995 – which features the famous lit-up Coca-Cola trucks.

This year, Coca-Cola aired a modernized version of their highly-anticipated 'Holidays Are Coming' advert - but viewers were unimpressed by the 'awful version' of the song. This demonstrates one of the risks behind updating an iconic seasonal advert - although admittedly it’s unlikely to affect sales. Sometimes we should keep a classic, a classic. 

The future of Christmas marketing

Marketing is a proven method of boosting sales – especially when tied into a theme, gimmick or holiday. We see this throughout the year through various sales and promotions – pulling in consumers.

Christmas marketing has evolved over the years to sophisticated pieces of artwork, carefully designed to intrigue customers and see sales boom.

Who knows, maybe you could be the brains behind the next iconic Christmas advert one day.

Niamh Ollerton, Deputy Head of Content at QS
Written by Niamh Ollerton

Niamh is Deputy Head of Content at QS (TopMBA.com; topuniversities.com), creating and editing content for an international student audience. Having gained her journalism qualification at the Press Association, London and since written for different international publications, she's now enjoying telling the stories of students, alumni, faculty, entrepreneurs and organizations from across the globe.  

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