Last week, I attended Greenlight’s July Christmas Conference. I know what your thinking (I thought the same): marketeers are promoting Christmas earlier every year, but surely July is going too far! Don’t worry, we’re not going to see Christmas decorations anytime soon, but as the clever people at Greenlight know, marketeers start planning for Christmas in Q3 and so it is a good time to have the conference.

More pressing for me was what to present. Should I talk about how social media can predict the must-have Christmas toy or gadget? How it can monitor, inform and be used to alter Christmas campaigns? Or perhaps how it can be used to understand and resolve frustrations over gifts and services? Ultimately, as a father of 4 young children, I felt obliged to answer a much more emotive question: how much did we hate last year’s Littlewoods “lovely, lovely muvver” ad?

In case you can’t recall, here is the advert in question:

It generated headlines like this in The Sun [a despicable British newspaper – ed]:

The problem was that, to some, it seemed to say that Santa didn’t exist. Others hated the implication that fathers did nothing for Christmas, while others thought it was inappropriate that in these years of austerity, Littlewoods should be advocating that you buy a £1200 Mac book for an elderly relative, £500 worth of smart phone for your brother-in-law and a truly horrible looking watch for your middle-aged husband. On credit. At c. 25% APR.

So what was the reaction on social media? Well here’s the twitter word cloud [editor’s note: if you are easily offended by off-color language, proceed to the word cloud with caution!]:

And here is the story in numbers:

  • “6k, 150,198″: There was a lot of interest in this advert. Over 6,000 tweets, 150 user posts on the Littlewoods facebook page and 198 comments on the official Littlewoods blog about the advert
  • ”85%, 62%, 500+”: It mostly negative with 85% of facebook comments being negative, 62% of twitter being negative and over 500 complaints to the ASA (the most of any ad campaign in 2011). And as the word cloud shows, these comments were not slightly negative, they were very negative.
  • ”15%, 35%, 0″: but some people loved the advert. 15% of wall posts on the Littlewoods facebook page defended the retailer and 35% of tweets were positive (the word cloud summarises these positive comments in green) and the ASA took no action (the 0 in my list of numbers). Nor did Littlewoods, who effectively decided to ride the storm by posting a few standard responses and kept the advert going. And, crucially, the demographics of the people who liked the advert matched Littlewoods customer base.
  • ”9%”: it worked: Littlewoods’ owners (shopdirect) reported an increase in sales of 9% for the 6 weeks leading up to Christmas vs the previous year. And at better margins.

So did Littlewoods do the right thing by keeping the ad up? From a marketing point of view they probably did, as the target market segment loved the ads. Did Social Media help them decide? I don’t know, but if they’d joined the hundreds of retailers and marketers who use Brandwatch, then almost certainly, yes.