A record £6.8bn festive advertising spree gets under way this weekend with Argos, Asda, Iceland and Walkers calling on the star power of Mariah Carey and the cast of Frozen to help shift everything from crisps to turkey crowns and musical instruments.
Argos and Iceland’s ads are launching during ITV’s Coronation Street on Friday, while commercials from Asda and Walkers – which will feature Carey – both debut during Celebrity X Factor on Saturday. The singer was reportedly paid £9m to promote a range of Christmassy-flavoured crisps.
Boots and Marks & Spencer are expected to launch their campaigns next week while Tesco, Sainsbury’s and John Lewis – whose ad last year featured Elton John – are set to reveal their Christmas extravaganzas after Remembrance Day on 11 November.
The brands’ festive commercials herald the annual battle for hearts and minds in what is known as the “golden quarter” when stores make the vast majority of their profits. Shoppers are expected to spend £80bn in the final six weeks of the season alone, according to a report by the Centre for Retail Research.
But the barrage of high-end ads masks an expected 1% fall in spending on TV commercials year on year to £1.4bn as brands switch to online, radio and cinema according to research by WARC for the Advertising Association. It will be the first Christmas period that spending online will outweigh that on TV, in a total spend of £6.8bn in the final quarter of 2019 – up nearly 5% on last year.
Online display ad spending will hit £1.75bn, in a double-digit rise, while national newspapers will post a decline of 2.6% with a spend of £265.7m.
“TV is the best for building brand stories and mass audience emotional connections and Christmas is a particularly strong time for big multi-media brand campaigns,” said Stephen Woodford, chief executive of the Advertising Association.
Argos’s campaign, for example, is led by a TV ad calculated to pull on the heart strings. A kitchen turns into a stage complete with dancing fans after a dad spots that his daughter has circled a drum kit in the traditional catalogue. In a dream sequence he plays along in his slippers to Simple Minds hit Don’t You (Forget About Me). The daughter joins in, with impressive drumming skills, as the freezer becomes a dry ice machine and the cooker morphs into stage lights.
The TV clip links to a digital campaign in which the company has made more than 40 years of vintage catalogues available online while celebrities and members of the public reminisce about leafing through their “book of dreams”.
Asda’s TV ad also stars a young girl, in a whimsical sequence in which she spreads the magic of Christmas caught from the northern lights across her village. It is tied into a digital storybook, Santa’s Leftover Magic, part of the proceeds of which will go to the retailer’s Fight Hunger Create Change initiative which works with food banks.
Mariah Carey’s Walkers ad, which features her singing All I want for Christmas is You, while tussling with an elf over a bag of crisps, was already being teased on digital channels on Friday.
Iceland won huge traffic on social media last year for a commercial featuring a Greenpeace-made animation about destruction of Orangutans’ rainforest habitat. It was pulled from TV because it breached political advertising rules. But this year it has opted for a more traditional tie-up with Disney film Frozen 2, including a family playing charades with characters from the film.
Woodford said digital advertising continued to grow strongly because brands and retailers were following audiences and looking for channels where they could target particular audiences efficiently.
He added: “Small and medium-sized businesses are also driving huge growth online. Twenty years ago small businesses had limited choices but now a one-person business can advertise using digital channels to 100 people if they choose to. It has also opened up routes for a small business to reach global markets.”
The expected fall in TV spending comes after ITV’s shares were hit last year by a warning of a difficult Christmas caused by the switch to online and cutbacks by retailers who are trying to trim budgets in a difficult market.
Paul Bainsfair, director general of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, said TV spend had held up partly because of a belief that about 60% of spending should go towards brand-building emotional ads rather than more direct calls to buy.
But he said recent budget pressure had encourage brands to use digital channels which they saw as providing a quicker return on investment because it more directly prompts spending.
“In the times we are living in people are driven by short term,” he said.
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