Christmas is over. The trees are out in the garden. You probably have over eaten and consumed too much drink and TV?
And if the latter is true. Then you will most likely have seen these two commercials. John Lewis – The Bear and The Hare, and M&S – Christmas Fairytale. They have, especially the John Lewis partnership with Lily Allen, caused waves in the brand world.
This article aims to look at an area of storytelling that is often overlooked. Yet it remains one of the most important factors.
Film makers will tell you that the picture doesn’t have to be perfect. But if the sound isn’t right then the audience will soon loose interest and the emotional attachment to the characters. The understanding of the stakes will dissolve. The conflict will be missed and as a result the story is never told as it has no recipients to hear it.
This article will review the audio storytelling efforts of the most talked about commercials. The basis of both rely heavily of the journey of the audio.
Which brand takes the crown for 2013 Christmas commercial of the year? Let’s take a deeper analysed look before we answer that.
John Lewis – The Bear and The Hare
The story for John Lewis advert is a much more visually compelling than it’s rival, from Marks and Spencer.
The animated short follows two friends, the hare and the bear. With the theme of giving and sharing experiences.
“Set in a beautiful forest, poor Bear is the only animal that never gets to celebrate Christmas because he has to hibernate every year. However, this year is different. This year Hare has a brilliant idea. See Hare give his best friend Bear a Christmas he’ll never forget.”
John Lewis went all out with this commercial. There was merchandise, a hashtag and even an app.
With the visuals strong, the style and visual story cut through the noise of traditional ads. It was different and stood out because of it.
When reviewing audio there are two areas to take into account; Verbal and Music.
In this particular instance they are brought together in form of Lilly Allen’s “Somewhere Only We Know”. So did the audio resonate? I found that the lyrics to be not particularly interesting, but in Lily Allen’s tone, ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ really makes me think of my own personal experiences with my family. How we have our own story, traditions in how we do christmas.
The audio failed where most presenters fail, they told you what you were seeing. There were a quite a few times were the lyrics told the audience what exactly they could see for themselves.
There is also some bird tweets and wind gusts to emphasise scenes and story.
It’s a beautiful ad, and it certainly gets your attention. Far too often brands are too eager to just to get the TV space, that they overlook how they should approach the medium. And I think wonderful is the perfect word for it.
The bear and the hare, provokes wonder, intrigue and by doing so invites the audience in. As Omar discusses here.
The choice of being a beautifully crafted animation which has a small, loyal and passionate industry. Along with the partnership with musician Lilly Allen brought views by the millions.
But does high view count mean they successfully build and drive brand action?
Possibly not, but partnered with the story (both audible and visually) and the emotion it stimulates inside as we watch it. These are 3 (Content Marketing, Story, Emotion) powerful factors with a strong direction in the story, matched with a easy accessible call to action. Will enable and drive brand action.
Marks and Spencer – Christmas Fairytale
The advert is not your typical Marks and Spencer’s advert. Sorry I couldn’t resist that. But on a serious note, the story is a combination of fantasy children stories. From Wizard of Oz to Alice in Wonderland.
The protagonist non other than the infamous burberry model, Rosie Huntington-Whitely. Rosie supported briefly with two appearances Helena Bonham-Carter.
The story follows Rosie as she travels through recognisable fantasy lands. Each with a stunning set that compliments what she is wearing.
“Fall down the rabbit hole into a magical world — sparkle from head to toe with decadent lingerie, glamorous make-up and glittering accessories. It’s always tea time! Let the celebrations never end with fabulously festive home accessories. When visiting family this Christmas, wrap up warm on those cold winter nights with bold coats in our cosiest fabrics. May all your wishes be granted this Christmas — fall in love with silky soft sleepwear in opulent jewel tones. Be whisked away to the land of excitement and adventure. Dress the part with show-stopping party wear.”
I’m not quite sure what the journey is about. Other than showcasing clothing products from M&S. Possibly finding her dog after it runs off, but no real morale unlike John Lewis.
Though the visual story of the Marks and Spencer advert is not as strong as their rival John Lewis, they make up for it with their audio element.
The audio takes a journey that inspires a mystical sense within you.
The music starts when Rosie falls down the hole and it sparks something within your mind that establishes the setting. A sound effect that she has now stumbled in wonderland as she falls onto a seat. Sitting before her are now characters of this strange new world and the music suggest something not quite right, yet fun and interesting to the viewer. Rosie shocks everyone by picking up the handbag and with the Red Queens slight of hand, the sound of a magic wand she is chased into the woods by the Heart of cards set. As Rosie comes to a clearing a slight wonder befalls her as she discovers the Gingerbread house. Now inside the magical music now continues, suggesting everything is ok for now in this strange land.
This continues, but the point here is that the music signifies different elements in the characters story, and how the whole thing fits together in a audio narrative.
My final question is as Gary Vaynerchuk calls it ‘the long game’. Engagement over interaction of transaction. Which commercial has the ability to be leveraged, positioned to continue to convey their brand story?
The John Lewis experimental commercial is cleverly marketed and entertaining which encourages audiences to seek it it out. The big difference is that John Lewis is doing what other brands need to start doing and that’s experiment. This is a crucial step in innovation finding your voice and telling an authentic story.
But it’s the magical, classy yet mysterious audio journey that is conveyed in Marks and Spencer’s has the Christmas audio feel. The ability to be reused again next Christmas. By using Rosie Huntington-Whitely, M&S aligned in the audiences mind with what she is notably known for. Modelling Burberry products. Burberry, another brand that leverages it’s Heritage story. This alignment allowed the M&S brand to show its British, Heritage, Value for money products with the classy and elegance of the model. Though the story lacks direction and clarity.
Personally, the M&S audio has the chance to become very much like the coca-cola ad, that so many people believe “that it’s not Christmas until I see the coca-cola advert”.
However, John Lewis experimented with a story that did not display it’s products. Instead they favoured showing a theme and a message communicated through its short animation. This is the right direction but it’s the reusable and memorable sound track of M&S that can be used to position the brand to tell stronger stories about its Heritage every Christmas just like the coca cola ad. Though M&S really could do with working on the visual side.
John Lewis wins the short game and Christmas Commercial of 2013. While M&S has the chance to win the long game.
Brand Narrative Researcher & Designer. Driver and explorer of new innovative branding and marketing fields. With diverse experience working with planning and delivering global digital campaigns for some of the worlds largest FMCG brands. If you have a question or would like to get in touch please do connect with me, on twitter @NovelInfluence or on Google+