In recent years, the Christmas advert has exploded in popularity. Pioneered largely by retail giant John Lewis – whose 2017 edition involves bedroom-dwelling #MozTheMonster’s friendship with a young boy called Joe – major companies now battle it out in a bid to be the year’s best-loved commercial.

However, crafting the perfect festive advertisement is no mean feat; companies spend millions annually in an attempt to tell an impeccable Christmas story that will not only be remembered (at least until December 26th), but will also increase sales. Lest we forget, TV advertisements are just another means of marketing, and to be valuable they must encourage people to spend. I’m sorry if that’s shattered any illusions of retailer altruism, but sometimes only the cold hard truth will do.

So, how exactly do organisations go about making themselves seen at Christmas? And does this style of content marketing actually increase profits?

Instant recognition

There’s one major hurdle brands must overcome when looking to create story-led advertisements, and that’s dealing with a lack of airtime. Breaks between TV shows generally don’t allow for slots any longer than a minute, so engaging the audience quickly is crucial. This problem has been tackled in numerous ways in the past – from having artists cover familiar songs to simply showcasing delightful graphics and cartoons – but the 2017 theme appears to be adverts explicitly referencing popular movies.

Aldi’s advert, which features a talking carrot called Kevin, has clearly been influenced by both The Polar Express and Murder on the Orient Express. ASDA’s, meanwhile, is basically what Wes Anderson would produce should he ever be tasked with rebooting Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Then there’s M&S’s proposition, which doesn’t even bother trying to be subtle with its inclusion of Paddington Bear, Argos’, which appears to be a take on the Mission Impossible series, and Barbour’s, which reunites users with festive favourites The Snowman and The Snowdog.

Those organisations that have refrained from going down the cinematic route – namely Morrisons, House of Fraser and Tesco – have pretty much uniformly decided to focus instead on Christmas nostalgia. With scenes depicting laughing families, decadent dinners, cute nativity plays and early-morning present giving, they have been designed to hit consumers with a heavy dose of wistful reminiscence.

John Lewis’ has, rather cleverly, combined the two. Moz’s personality and look have clearly been influenced quite heavily by the creatures in Where the Wild Things Are, while the feeling of being frightened of a monster that lurks under the bed is something many viewers will recall from their own childhood.

Grabbing a viewer’s attention early in the advertisement is vital, and though these two methods – films and familiarity – come at it from a different angle, they are aiming for the same thing. By revisiting stories and events that the audience is already familiar with, interest can be captured almost immediately because it evokes an emotional response. It’s the oldest trick in the advertising book, but it remains relevant because it continues to work.

Watch the John Lewis Christmas ad 2017 (video)

An online enhancement

Websites like YouTube allow for adverts to be watched in the viewer’s own time. Consumers may not care so much about adverts throughout the rest of the year, but when it comes to Christmas, views soar. To put that into some context, John Lewis’ 2016 offering – starring trampoline-loving Buster the Boxer – has been watched almost 26 million times on YouTube alone. Even PewDiePie, who has close to 58 million YouTube subscribers, would struggle to have a video reach such heights.

Being able to see these commercials at any time is, of course, a boon for the advertisers, and they have most certainly taken advantage of consumer appetite. Not only do brands ensure clips are hosted online as soon as they make their television debut, but many companies actually utilise their YouTube channels to publish longer-form versions of the commercials seen on TV. This incentivises users, and allows them to become further invested in the narrative.

John Lewis has taken this concept to the next level, creating an entire storybook – narrated wonderfully by Sally Phillips – based around its #MozTheMonster creation. This is a terrific example of giving consumers additional value through video, and ultimately getting them more attached to campaigns.

It’s a similar story on social media. The companies creating these adverts generally have huge captive audiences on Twitter and Facebook – John Lewis, for example, boasts 356k Twitter followers and 1.2m Facebook likes – so going viral (for the right reasons) is always going to be a primary objective. In fact, to once again highlight the efforts of John Lewis – it is pretty darn good at this stuff – last year’s advert was accompanied by the hashtag #BusterTheBoxer, which trended on Twitter for a long while.

We’ve spoken in the past about the value of taking one idea and then distributing it across numerous channels, and these yuletide advertisements are the perfect example of how it can be done incredibly successfully.

‘Tis the season to boost profits

This is the last time I’ll sing John Lewis’ praises, I promise. Well, until I write a similar article next year. I suppose the real problem is that John Lewis’ people are just so damn good at Christmas, so if you’re going to take it out on anyone, blame them. I’m just the messenger.

I mentioned earlier that Christmas advertising efforts can only really be considered a success if they bolster the bottom line, and that’s something I’m sure every organisation I’ve mentioned here will agree with. Producing a wonderful piece of visual art is all well and good, but if it doesn’t inspire people to part with their money, it’ll be difficult to get the top brass to sign off on doing something so lavish again in 12 months.

In John Lewis’ case, the advertisements certainly do seem to be working. In 2009, the brand’s Christmas advertising campaign – which cost around £5m – helped Christmas sales increase by 12.7 percent when compared to the previous year. In 2011, sales increased by 9.3 percent in the five weeks to December. In 2012, there was a year-on-year increase of 44.3 percent in the five weeks to Christmas. And those positives continue to emerge year after year. It’s an impressive success story.

Whether you love them or loathe them – and I think it’s safe to say most of us are of the former mindset – these expensive, inventive and often indulgent advertisements are here to stay, at least for the time being. While they continue to get us to open our wallets and wait eagerly for them to debut online, they’ll stick around. And I, for one, will welcome their return in 2018.

Read more: UK’s Top Christmas TV Ads