We’ve seen some corkers in recent years. From John Lewis & Partners’ trampoline obsessed Boxer and heartfelt Bear & The Hare tale, to Sainsbury's World War One Christmas truce, we’ve experienced campaigns that have had us in tears and fits of laughter – mainly due to opportunity these ads have presented for wholesome political satire.

However, this year a change is in the autumnal air. Mid-market retailers typically associated with such epic seasonal ads have had a hard time through 2018. Recent research by Bazaarvoice, highlights the growing trend of mid-market migration, with 69% of UK consumers now shopping at budget brands such as Argos, TK Maxx, H&M and Tiger.

Not only are shoppers now choosing budget brands because of price (73%), but a quarter of shoppers in the UK, France and Germany associate their budget brands with quality products.

With such an uptick in competition, it’s hardly surprising UK advertisers are cutting almost £44m from their TV ad campaign budgets in the run-up to Christmas. But rather than entirely disappearing, the drop in TV budgets denotes a shift in focus to targeting shoppers on digital media and even out-of-home experiences to drive purchases.

Bans, brands and bargains

The M&S Christmas campaign is a great example. The campaign is designed to be “mobile first” and it’s created a record-volume of content that will run on digital platforms. Holly Willoughby has been put front and centre of after the retailer brought her in as a brand ambassador three months ago and saw sales spike as a result.

“What’s happened historically is that focus has been put on the epic, blockbuster, hero ad. Paddington worked really well for us last year and drove emotion and we still want to be entertaining, but we need to get people shopping with us as well,” said newly appointed marketing director for the retailer’s non-food division, Nathan Ansell in an interview with The Drum.

Of course, another ‘push’ factor for the migration to social channels is the much publicised banning of Iceland’s 2018 Chistmas ad on political grounds. Rejected by Clearcast, the discount supermarket’s animated short film featuring an orangutan and the destruction of its rainforest habitat has gone viral - more than 12 million people have watched the ad on Facebook.

‘John’ Lewis hammers its message home

Once synonymous with advertising, big out-of-home billboard branding exercises have enjoyed something of a resurgence in headline worthy campaigns - and the much anticipated arrival of the John Lewis Christmas ad is no exception.

The storefront of John Lewis' Oxford Street flagship was changed to 'John'. The switch of course referencing the huge role Elton John plays in the retailer's newly released Christmas which takes shape as a powerful homage to the musician’s life, resting heavily on the melody of ‘Your Song’.

But reactions to ‘The Boy & The Piano’ along with many of this year’s other Christmas ads have so far been mixed. Aside from the ever entertaining adventures of Kevin the Carrot, we haven’t been whisked away on a festive journey by any of the ads released so far.

Given the mid-market squeeze, this leaves John Lewis & Partners in a tricky position as the long-time flagship of epic, story-driven Christmas ads. However, as we enter peak shopping season, it’s important to remember that what all of these retailers are doing is sending a message – put your money where your trust lies.