After brands’ more ‘real’, product-focused approach to Christmas last year they have switched back to emotional advertising; but there are as many winners as losers in the brand-building game.

Who can remember the big winners of the 2018 Christmas ad battle? I’ll wait while you think of some. Just about managed to conjure up Iceland’s borrowed ‘Rang-tan’ ad? Have vague recollections of a talking carrot and some singing boxes?

That’s not a surprise given the “disappointingly anonymous” ads, as one analyst put it, that UK retailers churned out last year. Desperate to avoid accusations of not being in touch with the public’s dour spirit and facing challenges of their own, retailers did the only thing they felt they could – they bigged up consumerism and shouted at people about product.

It would seem they have learnt the lessons from last year. Although advertising was obviously not the only cause, Christmas 2018 was the worst year for retailers since 2008. But with the public still in a bad mood (and that was before news of another General Election broke) and the crisis hitting the high street showing no signs of abating, this Christmas demanded something different.

That means last year’s focus on product and realism is gone this year. Instead, we have a Santa origins story set in Victorian Britain, a time-travelling grocery delivery van, Mariah Carey, jumping jumpers and, of course, an over-excitable dragon.

“It feels as if that expressiveness side, making people feel something, is much more consistent this year across the vast majority of ads,” says Kantar’s head of creative excellence, Lynne Deason.

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