Warm days and sultry nights, postmen in shorts, city workers in shirtsleeves, al fresco dining – ah, late summer: the season when adfolk start polishing their Christmas quips and thinking themselves into a weird world of tortured wordplay and dead metaphors.
Any organisation that needs to communicate with its market will be planning the Christmas message about now. And in creative departments throughout the land despairing souls will be lamenting the circle of hell they find themselves in as the season of goodwill makes its usual early appearance.
Seasons are a mixed blessing for toilers in Adland. They certainly provide a ready-made theme. That saves hours of staring out the window wondering “What can I base this on?”. Unfortunately, the mix of fantasy and reality which advertising thrives on is rather limited when it comes to markers in the annual cycle.
Climate change has rocked the reality of many of our seasonal signs. Robins come bob-bobbing along at any old time of year, squirrels can’t be bothered to hibernate, snow is rare at Christmas despite last year’s greetings-card scenes.
The only reliable pointer to the time of year is advertising, and Christmas is the undisputed peak period for the seasonal message. But there’s so little to go on. As a result, generations of wide-eyed creative fledglings produce what they see as inspired new takes on the theme. Older hands view the reappearance of a familiar headline with the reassurance they once felt on seeing the first robin on a holly bush.
So let’s take a preview of our regular winter visitors, headlines to be seen in the press, on TV and online in the disturbingly near future.
Ah, those crackers. The exclamation mark is essential. It tells you this really is an exciting selection of special offers calculated to transform your Christmas with an injection of unbounded energy. The top offer might be a reduced-price ham. The headline type will probably jump around a bit and should always be set in a starburst.
Now this is the comfy, fireside version of the above – in fact there should be a glow about the whole thing. Mince pies, Christmas puds and sherry will loom large. Watch for Dickensian visuals, and certainly snow on the headline type.
This will be a non-food ad, unless it’s chocolate. You might find socks, nighties, jewellery, jumpers, Ipods, Ipads and toys all together in this specimen. Despite the headline the graphics will normally suggest ‘unwrapped’, with crumpled paper scattered here and there. There’s likely to be ribbon.
See above. It might be ad number two in the campaign. You may also see an unnervingly ecstatic recipient.
Now come on – do you ever use the word ‘Yule’? “Going anywhere this Yule?” “We’re having grandmother for Yule.” “Did you get any nice Yule presents?” If you do, well, frankly, yule be – no, stop it. But this is an absolute regular. It comes from having too little time to come up with the headline, and thinking your readers still speak in Norse- and Gothic-tinged Old English.
A year in advertising
Christmas may be prime time for cliches, but other seasons have their hardy advertising perennials too. Spring wouldn’t be the same without a stressed wordsmith throwing up his hands in despair and settling for an Easter Eggstravaganza. Summer Sizzlers show up whenever a retailer has special offers on barbecue items, but any bargains in June, July or August can be legitimately described this way.
There’s that awkward period around May when nobody knows quite where we are. That’s when Spring into Summer comes into its own. As for bank holidays, we’re short-changed in comparison with the rest of Europe so perhaps a little euphoria is understandable when they arrive. Cue the burst of Bank Holiday Bonanzas in DIY superstore advertising whenever there’s an official Friday or Monday off.
But my favourite in season-themed advertising standbys is what must be the ultimate in all-purpose headlines. It fits any time of year, it fits any taste, it fits any motivation. The delight in welcoming this classic isn’t limited to a short period when it’s topical. You’ll catch sight of it anywhere, any time – and whoever you are, whatever your inclinations, it claims to speak to you.
It is, of course:
Don’t you feel that familiar gleam of recognition? And are you so consumed by the novelty of the approach that you can’t resist reading on? OK, no.
There must be a way out
Now then – you may be looking ahead to your own Christmas advertising right now, and maybe you’d prefer to avoid the pitfalls listed here. Well, there is a very practical option. That’s right – give me a call. Whatever your message, it is possible to state it without sending your readers or viewers to sleep. I’m in the right frame of mind already since I’m working on a few Christmas jobs right now, and I promise you there isn’t a ‘Winter warmers’ headline in sight.
Have a Merry September.