Why Big Brands Need Sponsored Video Not Christmas TV Ads

In Great Britain, major brands in the retail space have created the relatively recent tradition of launching an official Christmas ad or advert in early November. Why? Well, the Brits don’t celebrate Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving, like the Yanks do. So, they can get a head start on driving shoppers into stores weeks before their American cousins try pushing consumers to shop ‘til they drop on Black Friday or Small Business Saturday. But, this may be the last year that we see an official Christmas ad or advert from John Lewis, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, and a host of other retailers in the UK.

Why? Because I suspect that many retail brands will discover that sponsored video campaigns by influential content partners and publishers make the cash register ring far more often at a much lower cost than yet another expensive TV ad that’s repurposed and uploaded to YouTube and Facebook. And I’ll bet Santa’s cookies and milk that video marketers in the United Kingdom and Ireland, the United States and Canada, as well as Australia and New Zealand will be watching this trend in the video marketing business very closely.

How Repurposed Christmas TV Ads Fare Online

Now, despite the intense emotions stirred by Christmas, the holiday has become an over-commercialized effort to sell stuff to people who will turn around and give it away for free to their family, actual friends (which is a much smaller list than their Facebook friends), and a random colleague (if they happen to be their Secret Santa at work). So, businesses on high street can’t be blamed if they take a cold, hard look at their Christmas campaigns to figure out of there is a better way to pack more packages underneath the Christmas tree. Hey, that’s why retail stores and shops don’t celebrate Festivus, for Pete’s sake. So, let’s examine the critical data that will drive their data-driven decisions about how to market Christmas gifts and stocking stuffers more cost-effectively in the future.

One of this year’s most anticipated Christmas ads was uploaded to YouTube on Nov. 9, 2017. Entitled, “John Lewis Christmas Ad 2017 – #MozTheMonster,” this version got 7.7 million views in its first 7 days (V7) and 0.6x engagements per view compared to a platform baseline (ER7).

How does this compare to last year’s campaign. Well, the YouTube version of “John Lewis Christmas Advert 2016 – #BusterTheBoxer” had a V7 of 16.7 million views and an ER7 of 0.4x.

Now, that’s not a good trend, but two data points don’t mean that it’s the end of an era. So, let’s look at “John Lewis Christmas Advert 2015 – #ManOnTheMoon.” The YouTube version had a V7 of 12.3 million views and an ER7 of 0.4x.

So, the YouTube version of #MozTheMonster has gotten off to a worse start than #BusterTheBoxer or #ManOnTheMoon. But, what about Facebook versions of these Christmas ads?

#MoxTheMonster” was uploaded to Facebook on Nov. 10, 2017. This version got 14.5 million views in its first 7 days (V7) and 0.9x engagements per view compared to a platform baseline (ER7). The Facebook version of “#BusterTheBoxer” had a V7 of 31.6 million views and an ER7 of 1.7x. And the Facebook version of “John Lewis Christmas Advert 2015 – #ManOnTheMoon” had a V7 of 6.5 million views and an ER7 of 1.8x. So, the Facebook version of #MozTheMonster has gotten off to a worse start than #BusterTheBoxer, but a better start than #ManOnTheMoon. Not good, but not bad, either. It’s worth noting that these two Christmas ads were promoted by a series of 11 tweets which include videos. Five of these include videos that are 2 minutes long. But, half of dozen include the @username of an influencer and a video that’s 5-seconds long. So, John Lewis was using a dash of influencer marketing to promote its Christmas ads this year.

The Battle of the Christmas TV Ads

Nevertheless, if you were one of the video marketers at John Lewis, then how would you interpret these mixed results? Well, if you were like me, you’d use Tubular Labs data to see how your competitors were doing. And you’d find that your biggest competitors were doing worse, much worse on YouTube.

For example, “Sainsbury’s OFFICIAL Christmas Advert 2017 #everybitofChristmas” has a V7 of 1.7 million views and an ER7 of 0.3x.

The Greatest Gift | Sainsbury’s Ad | Christmas 2016” had a V7 of 6.8 million views and an ER7 of 0.2x, and “Mog’s Christmas Calamity | Sainsbury’s OFFICIAL Ad | Christmas 2015” had a V7 of 12.7 million views and an ER7 of 0.4x.

And you’d see a similar picture on Facebook. “We’ve crammed #everybitofChristmas into our ad this year. Fancy a sing-along?” has a V7 of 1.0 million views and an ER7 of 0.2x. “Introducing “The Greatest Gift”… Does that voice sound familiar? #ChristmasIsForSharing” had a V7 of 1.6 million views and an ER7 of 0.7x. And “Sainsbury’s OFFICIAL Christmas Advert 2015 – Mog’s Christmas Calamity! Watch our festive TV ad and see if Mog can save Christmas. #ChristmasIsForSharing” had a V7 of 6.9 million views and an ER7 of 1.6x.

In other words, this year’s Sainsbury’s official Christmas advert is getting fewer and fewer views on both YouTube and Facebook than the official Christmas adverts for the previous two years. It’s worth noting that these two Christmas ads were promoted by a series of 4 tweets which include videos. Two of these include videos that are 90 seconds long and two are 1 minute long.

And, how is Marks & Spencer doing? Well, on YouTube, “M&S Christmas TV Ad 2017 | Paddington & The Christmas Visitor #LoveTheBear” has a V7 of 3.1 million views and an ER7 of 0.3x.

That’s down from “M&S 2016 Christmas Ad: Christmas with love from Mrs Claus,” which had a V7 of 4.2 million views and an ER7 of 0.2x. But, it’s up from “M&S: CHRISTMAS TV AD 2015 – #TheArtOfChristmas,” which had a V7 of 1.8 million views and an ER7 of less than 0.1x.

Over on Facebook, “Paddington and the Christmas Visitor #LoveTheBear” has a V7 of 8.9 million views and an ER7 of 1.6x. That’s better than “Here’s to a wonderful Christmas filled with love. #LoveMrsClaus,” which had a V7 of 6.3 million views and an ER7 of less than 1.1x. And it’s significantly better than “The Art Of Christmas,” which had a V7 of 1.0 million views and an ER7 of 0.3x. M&S has use one tweet this year that included a video that is 90 second long and the hashtag #LoveTheBear.

So, as I asked earlier, if you were one of the video marketers at John Lewis, then how would you interpret your results now that you’ve looked at your two leading competitors? If you use “views” as your yardstick, then you’re doing better than they are, but your Christmas ad this year isn’t doing as well as your Christmas advert did last year. So, maybe it’s time to totally rethink what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how you’re measuring success.

The Metrics That Matter for Big Brands 

At this point, Ebenezer Scrooge would be visited by the three Ghosts of Christmas and discover the true meaning of Christmas. But, I’m going to suggest that we head in the opposite direction. I believe it’s time for brands in the retail industry to borrow Scrooge’s catchphrase to express their disgust with many of today’s modern Christmas traditions. At some time, somebody convinced rational retailers to “think like publishers.” Bah! Humbug! Publishers sell advertising. Retailers sell consumer goods.

With the advent of social media, consultants proclaimed, “Brands have become media companies.” Humbug! A media company needs to create great content in order to inform or entertain an audience. A retail brand needs to offer great products at competitive prices in order to create and keep customers.

And unfortunately, too many video marketers started using “views” to measure success. Humbug! This is the right KPI if you are a content creator or a media company, because you can monetize your views. But, “views” is the wrong KPI if you are a retail brand like John Lewis, Sainsbury’s, or Marks & Spencer, because you aren’t monetizing them, are you?

And, there’s no correlation between “views” and the metrics that do matter to brands in the retail industry, including lifts in brand awareness, ad recall, consideration, favorability, purchase intent, and brand interest, as measured by organic search activity. So, creating an official Christmas ad or advert that gets more “views” than your direct competitors is a vanity metric – particularly if you promoted or boosted it with a bigger budget. And if retailers in the UK continue using the wrong KPI next year, then they deserve a lump of coal in their Christmas stockings.

Now, this isn’t an argument for becoming a cold-hearted miser who despises Christmas. However, it does indicate that retailers in the UK need to look beyond their direct competitors to find happiness, warmth, pride, and inspiration in 2018 and beyond. And it provides a line of reasoning for paying more attention to engagement metrics (such as likes, shares, and comments) as a basic barometer that shows how an audience responds to videos.

In fact, I’m going to make the business case that sponsored video campaigns by influential content creators are a better way to make the cash register ring far more often at a significantly lower cost than yet another expensive TV ad that’s repurposed and uploaded to YouTube and Facebook. Now, I can’t predict whether John Lewis, Sainsbury’s, and Marks & Spencer will have all stopped making official Christmas ads or adverts a year from now. But, I’m very confident that all three will try out sponsored video campaigns before the UK is scheduled to leave the European Union on Friday, March 29, 2019. So, is Brexit is the mother of invention?

A Better Way to Make the Cash Register Ring

No, there are other reasons why I am convinced that all three retail brands in dear old Blighty will adopt this innovative video marketing strategy sooner, rather than later. First, one or more of the video marketers at John Lewis, Sainsbury’s, and Marks & Spencer may have already read articles like “How Jungle Creations Is Winning Sponsored Video on Facebook” and wondered, “If leading producer of sponsored video content both in the UK and beyond can generate those kinds of results for Oreo, Stork, and Baileys, then what could a similar approach do for me?

Second, more than one of these video marketers in Great Britain may have already downloaded the Tubular State of Online Video for Q3 2017 and noticed that the Food & Drink and Sports genres have the highest percentage of influencers participating in branded content on Facebook, while the Beauty and People & Blogs genres have the highest percentage of influencers that participate in sponsored content on YouTube. And they’ve imagined what it would take to become the leading sponsor in the Family & Parenting and Fashion & Style genres.

Third, the video marketers at two of these UK retailers have already been experimenting with sponsored video campaigns. According to Tubular’s DealMaker feature – which helps brands and media partners build successful sponsored video campaigns – Sainsbury’s has used 23 partners on Facebook and 3 on YouTube to create and upload 208 sponsored videos. One sponsored video entitled, “Always time to dance! Having a laugh #fooddancing and teaching Harry Redknapp a move or two #daddancing #family #ad,” was created by Louise Redknapp and uploaded to her Facebook page. It has a V7 of 297,000 views and an ER7 of 1.2x.”

Meanwhile, John Lewis has used 2 partners on Facebook and 2 on YouTube to create and upload 5 sponsored videos. One sponsored video entitled, “You’re Finally Allowed to Watch this! Ad,” was created by EveryDay Jim and uploaded to his YouTube channel. It has a V7 of 68,100 views and an ER7 of 4.0x.

Now, it’s still early days, but it appears that none of these three retail brands in the UK have taken part of the promotion budget for their official Christmas ad or advert and transferred it to Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim to create a complimentary sponsored video campaign. Who would even contemplate crafting such a crazy thing?

Well, at least one retail brand in the US is on the cusp of crafting a complimentary sponsored video campaign. It’s just hard to show you current examples, because they have to take care of Thanksgiving first. But, even retail marketers on the other side of the pond have heard of them.

The brand is Walmart, an American multinational retail corporation that operates as a chain of hypermarkets, discount department stores, and grocery stores. In the last 7 days, Walmart has used 19 partners on Facebook to create 29 sponsored videos for that social video platform. However, none of these sponsored videos has a Christmas theme.

But, I’ll bet my ugly reindeer sweater that those are on their way. Last year, Walmart sponsored “Peppermint Vodka 4 Ways” on Tasty’s Facebook page. It had a V7 of 11.2 million views and an ER7 of 1.3x. Walmart also sponsored “Surprise Toys for Kids Christmas Present Opening! WALMART Top Toys Chosen by Kids! Batman Superman” on the Ryan ToysReview YouTube channel. It had a V7 of 2.2 million views and an ER7 of 0.1x.

Okay, Walmart doesn’t create an official Christmas ad, although it might benefit if it did create something like #BusterTheBoxerMog’s Christmas Calamity, or #LoveTheBear. So, the American retail brand hasn’t technically “transferred” part of its marketing budget to media companies or content creators to create a complimentary sponsored video campaign. But, some kind-hearted store owner or festive shop keeper somewhere in the world will soon. And when that happens, Tiny Tim will say, “God bless us, every one!”

Now, this doesn’t mean that all three retail brands in the UK will stop making official Christmas ads or adverts next year. I’ve deliberately used the the term “complimentary” because they could do a little of both. But, if this year’s results turn out be be lackluster, then expanding their sponsored video campaigns might be worth considering next Christmas. And no matter what happens, video marketers — and the media that cover holiday campaigns — should shift how they’re measuring success from vanity metrics like views to something more practical like sales.  But there are still a couple of known unknowns.

For example, how much did each retail brand spend creating and promoting this year’s official Christmas ad or advert? But, here’s something that even the video marketers at John Lewis, Sainsbury’s, and Marks & Spencer don’t know yet – and won’t find out until after the holidays are over: How many products were sold and at what prices as well as how much revenue and profit did this year’s campaigns generate? So, it’s a little early to calculate each brand’s return on marketing investment (ROMI). But, if anyone wants the formula, he or she will find it in one of my recent columns, which is entitled, “Why Paying Celebrity Influencers $500,000 for a #Sponsored Video Ad May Not Give You the best ROI – Advertising Week 2017.”

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I realize that talking about money during Christmas makes me sound like Scrooge. But, that’s what video marketing is really supposed to accomplish for brands in the retail industry – not only during this time of year, but also during all of the other holidays and seasons. So, whether you’re in the United Kingdom or Ireland, the United States or Canada, Australia or New Zealand, embrace your inner Ebenezer. If your traditional video marketing strategy doesn’t make the cash register ring, then you need say, “Bah! Humbug!” And, right after Christmas, you will need to redeem yourself and find a new one.