The lights are rigged in the streets and the event-advertising is hitting our screens: Christmas is here. Regarding the respective efforts of John Lewis, Marks & Spencer’s and Boots, it’s notable how all three share songs as soft as their snowy locales, but also an increased focus on social media. Tonally however, there are some distinct differences.

M&S’s #FollowTheFairies gives us not one, but two Tinkerbells, who after clocking off from some vaguely Orwellian-looking day job, take to the skies, to variously play cupid and conjure sparkling gifts, snowflakes and even lost cats, out of the thin wintry air. It’s unabashedly escapist, fun and female-focused, but goes easier on the sex appeal of previous efforts. It’s version of Fly Me to the Moon is sung by Julie London, and I’d like to have seen M&S brave a Xmas take on her Nice Girls Don’t Stay for Breakfast but there’s always next year.

This ad embodies the Mintel Trend, Play Ethic, where retailers seek to bring an element of joy and playfulness back to the shopping experience. Enjoyment and escape can transcend any focus on price and spending and with pent up desire for leisure and tourism, retail and even retail campaigns – can offer a degree of relief and an outlet.

John Lewis has gone all Pingu with its #MontythePenguin campaign wherein a little boy’s pet penguin pines for a mate in time for a stuffed one – Mabel – to appear under the tree on Christmas morning, all to the tune of Tom Odell’s reading of the John Lennon artefact Real Love. Expensive and slushy it may be, this campaign is a cunningly realised retail gateway to no less than 43 ‘Monty & Mabel’ gifts, including Monty himself, who’ll set you back £35. However, even the iciest hearts of the cynics might be thawed by the campaign’s public and financial support for the World Wildlife Fund’s Penguin adoption campaign.

This charitable dimension chimes with Mintel’s trend Moral Brands, where consumers look to retailers and brands to do their good work for them. This spend-and-give mentality is never more powerful than at Christmas and being a ‘moral company’ can be a deal breaker when consumer are faced with a choice of retailers. However this view of the ‘consumer community’ is notable for its ecological, global aspect.

Compared to this, the Boots campaign is decidedly more human in both subject and impact and its concerns are also much closer to home – geographically and economically. At first glance, #specialbecause appears unambitiously familiar – all mums and snowy suburbia comfortably scored by the licensed to-death troubadour Alexi Murdoch – but, wait, this is no Narnia/JM Barrie M&S fantasy land. This is the after-the-event hinterland of bleary-eyed, Boxing Day travel drudgery of a family wearily, but stealthily, assembling to welcome home a nurse/wife/mother from her Christmas night shift.

This earns it the distinction of dealing in the economic realities of those who might have to balance work and family – as well as hinting at the notion of budgets. Mintel’s Trend Nouveau Poor looks at the lingering legacy of recession for those middle class families, experiencing ‘downward mobility’, and this ad is a textbook example in sensitively delivering a need to recalibrate tastes, habits and expectations to a wider audience, symbolised by a “real” family, having to work on Christmas day.

Of the three, the Boots ad wins hands down on Christmas spirit because it deals in characters who give gifts, but also give time and care, and not just to their families either, but to the community beyond.

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