Speaking in generalities, I think creatives have opened a door and walked their clients right through into a commercial reality in which people over 50 are still attractive and sexually viable, women come in all shapes and sizes, families sometimes have two moms or two dads, tattooed people are not criminals, love is dissolving racial boundaries (*bows down to Cheerios*), and the sales discourse ranges across formerly taboo subjects like incontinence, ED, toenail fungus invading the red carpets of Hollywood, and so much more.
Another has opened, and it stands starkly in contrast to all of the warm, fuzzy, and often funny/cute holiday adverts that sprinkle us with yummy sparkling bow-tied rainbows of consumerism. There has always been one or two of these maudlin little :30 tales of heart-tugging, home-for-the-holidays manipulation. But this year, as Advertising Age pointed out, ads number in the double digits that aim to have you sobbing; you can troll for them on its sister site, Creativity-Online.com.
The one that has sparked the most social discourse, even a feature on The Today Show, comes from German supermarket brand Edeka. It opens on an absolutely heartbreaking elderly man, left to spend the holidays by himself because his adult children are too busy with their own lives. Cut to scenes of said adult children receiving devastating news, which appears to be that their father died. Alone. Now, too late, they all rush home.
Fake out! He’s still alive! “How else could I have brought you all together?” he asks his tearful, grief-stricken family. Cut to relief and a big dinner, served up with food from the grocery store totally forgotten as you blow your nose, feeling both happy he’s not dead and shamelessly manipulated.
Not to be outdone, there’s a Claymation ad from German online retailer Otto, involving a lost letter to a (really) dead grandfather, and a special delivery decades too late. Cue the waterworks.
There’s a Brazilian Coca Cola ad, part of a longer-form series, titled “A Bridge for Santa.” In a nutshell (nutcracker?), young boy has father send letter to Santa, letter explains how his dead mother (all this mayhem!) promised to introduce him to Santa. The town’s bridge it out, so Santa can’t get to the town. Dad reads, Dad rebuilds bridge with entire town’s help. Santa rides in, courtesy of a caravan of Coke trucks rolling in to save the (holi)day. And – upshot — Dad seems to have found a new mom for our tiny protagonist. Awww. This one is so transparent, I couldn’t squeeze out a single tear.
Lest you think we can’t game it here in the U.S., there’s this spot for Toys “R” Us – dad and son getting ready for Christmas, mom noticeably absent. Never fear – a remote control truck leads our adorable son to the front door, where mom, still in her military uniform, is there to surprise him. I double-dare you to not cry.
Now that we’ve stepped away from the mayhem, we have Tylenol showing us #HowWeFamily in this spot, featuring peace, love, and families of all races, creeds, and sexual orientation. One minute, no voiceover, less than six lines of copy (counting logo and hashtag). Brilliant.
U.K. advertisers are widely credited within our industry as starting this manipulative, tear-jerking trend, where the holiday advertising season has become the emotionally competitive equivalent of our Superbowl – in particular the rivalry between Sainsbury’s and John Lewis. Here we have a perfect example in John Lewis’ “Monty’s Christmas”:
I was crying tears of joy when Monty found his true love.
And then there’s the spot for U.K. Supermarket chain Co-operative Food, a subtle bit about two millennials prepping for a party. One goes out for ice and anonymously drops off a bag of groceries for an elderly neighbor he noted was afraid to traverse the slippery streets. Yep, tears.
Whether you see these as jaded attempts to capitalize on the heightened emotionalism of the season, or the softer side of marketers, they elevate brand recognition and – with the exception of jaded industry folks such as we – make consumers feel pretty warm and fuzzy about these brands. Bet your local grocery chain has something pretty similar running right now. I know both Publix and Winn-Dixie – my local supermarkets — are hard at it.
And if all of this emotional exploitation is bring out the Scrooge in you, Ad Age points out there is always the “Yule Log” vid for Lagavulin Scotch – 45 minutes of noted manly man (and “Parks and Recreation” actor) Nick Offerman sitting next to a fireplace sipping Scotch in blessed silence for 45 minutes.