UK Advertising, A Great Holiday Gift

Living and working in London as a planner — or a strategist as we call it in America — did more than open my eyes to a world where you can fly from one country to the next for $40 round trip (or grab a post-work pint at literally any street corner). It opened my eyes to new and different ways to connect with people through words, research, and strategy. It fostered an even deeper passion for the work I do today as a content strategist/copywriter. And showed me to two months like I’ve never experienced them before: November and December.

The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

November and December. In America, our attention is directed towards the biggest Black Friday sales and the most exclusive Cyber Monday offers. But in the UK, anticipation, predictions, teasers, and months of creative and strategic brainstorming all come to the forefront. The stakes are high, and the air is chilly — yes, UK Christmas commercials are coming to town.

We have our own intense commercial competition here in the U.S. — where the stakes are also pretty high and the bar keeps being raised. Just move the date a few months later and replace ‘Christmas’ with ‘Super Bowl’ and everything clicks. But instead of a race to win the attention of football-crazed fans through big celebrity names in car commercials or silly characters that will eventually go viral on Twitter, Britons’ approach to the Christmas “adstravaganza” is completely different. It’s a race to “win” Christmas through honesty, love, family, and friends — all the ups and downs that come along with it included.

UK Commercial’s Heritage

It all started with one British retailer, John Lewis (think Nordstrom or Bloomingdales). A brand that saw an opportunity to break through traditional holiday advertising — you know, move away from the standard shiny happy families with brand new toys and gadgets. “The Long Wait” in 2011 and #BusterTheBoxer of 2016 helped the brand say, “Hey, we hope you and your family spend time together this Christmas and guess what? There’s something for everyone here, so we can help make that time more meaningful.”

Since the first holiday advertising splash in the UK, more and more British retailers face the pressure to create bigger, bolder, and more emotional Christmas spots every year — all in the hopes that they’ll grab the attention of consumers and key stakeholders in the advertising industry alike.

Most of the time, the common thread throughout these spots year after year is to pull the heartstrings of viewers or tap into that classic dry, British humor. And even though every retailer taking the yuletide stage has different values and goals, the one thing they have in common around this time of year is a dire need to create a news-worthy Christmas commercial that stands out. Let’s take a peek at this year’s spots.

2018 Holiday Spots

“The Boy and the Piano” is John Lewis’ 2018 Christmas advert. The spot showcases just how big an impact one gift can have on someone’s life. In this case, it’s Elton John’s life. Starting in the present day and moving backward in time, “The Boy and the Piano” aims to shed light on the power of a present.

Next up, we have Sainsbury’s (think ShopRite), “The Big Night.” As a sweet little girl sings her way through “You Get What You Give” by The New Radicals, she’s supported by her classmates and cheered on by her number one fan: her mom. The spot focuses on the notion of believing in yourself and concludes with a profoundly heartwarming message, “We give all we’ve got for the ones we love.”

Before you start assuming that all British Christmas ads are focused on the heart, consider the spot from M&S, “Must-Haves.” The brand is similar to Macy’s, and the spot is a perfect depiction of British humor as it showcases the “Must-Haves that make Christmas.”

And, lest we forget the spot from TJ Maxx (yes it’s exactly what you think it is): “The Never-Ending Stocking,” a somewhat clear and easy way to define the brand as an all-season go-to for the perfect gift: to give to yourself and others.

So, who’s in the lead? According to a survey by market researchers of System1, Heathrow’s heart-wrenching teddy bear spot is coming out on top. Doris and Edward Bair (the furry couple featured in the spot), have been Heathrow Airport’s beloved spokespeople over the last two years — continuing to capture the hearts of those near and far, young and old.

This year, Doris and Edward show the world how all the warm weather isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, especially during the holidays. As the couple makes their way back home to Britain and the spot concludes with the simple line, “Making it home makes Christmas,” it’s hard to argue that maybe the best part of the holidays isn’t all the glitz and glam, but rather being with the people who make us happiest.

“For many people, being close to the ones we love is what really makes Christmas special,” Ross Baker, Heathrow’s Chief Commercial Officer said about the ad. “The nation’s love for Doris and Edward is overwhelming and has been since we first met them in 2016. This is why we see the Bairs return to their family from warmer climes, as many of Heathrow’s passengers make similar journey’s home for the festive season.”

Besides all the heartwarming belly-laughs the “This Christmas Super Bowl” of advertising gives us, there a few other takeaways. Not only do every one of these brands completely nail it strategically and creatively — so much so that many of them don’t create follow-up ads — but every spot is about emotion. About meaning. About real human moments.  By celebrating the best parts of these brands, each of these adverts shines a light on everything that brand values and stands for.


What’s your favorite spot? Please do share with us.



Erin Schroeter

Erin Schroeter is a Content Strategist/Copywriter at Trajectory. With a passion for all things social/digital, Erin puts big ideas into little sentences and uses her words to connect people to one another. As a Boston University alumni who has worked in Advertising all around the world (most recently London), she's written for various music publications, managed social media programs and collaborated on creative strategies. When she isn't totally engulfed in creative brainstorms, Erin practices yoga and paints.