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Guest comment: How the Christmas campaigns of five big brands are being received on social media

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by Steve Richards

We’re in the middle of what should be the most profitable time of the year for retailers, and weather and cash permitting, customers should be pounding the streets (or filling their virtual baskets) with all the festive frivolities that they can find. But it’s also a highly competitive time. As major retailers fight for the same customers they have to find a way to stand out – to lure us in.

John Lewis has produced what is for many the stand out Christmas advert, but how much influence does a good TV ad, have on a retailer’s brand reputation, and are they sometimes expensive mistakes? We analysed five retailers who are running big Christmas ad campaigns – John Lewis, Littlewoods, Matalan, Iceland and M&S – to find out what impact their Christmas campaigns are having on their reputation with consumers.

(A note on the analysis: we use a combination of automated and human analysis to attribute a ‘Social Media Reputation’ (SMR) score to a brand. This measures ‘reach’ (how many people are talking about the brand) – and ‘satisfaction’ (whether those people are saying positive or negative things about it). Both are given a score out of 100. We then applies a ‘recency’ score which means that recent conversations have more weight than those taking place months ago. All this goes into the final SMR score out of 100, which gives a good indication of the retailer’s reputation with customers.)

John Lewis

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the advert that everyone is talking about has had the biggest impact on reputation. John Lewis scored the highest in reputation terms, with an overall SMR score of 57.07 out of 100.

The advert débuted on YouTube – where it has been viewed more than 3.2 million times (two million more times than the Littlewoods advert, which has been on the site for longer) and was shared all over social media. The ad airs around the X Factor, and the cover version of The Smiths Please, Please let Me Get What I Want, is being touted as a potential contender for Christmas number one.

This doesn’t mean that the ad has received universal praise on social media – it hasn’t – but the debate between the love it and hate it camps has helped extend the reach of the campaign, and satisfaction with the brand is high. It’s also using its 290,000 Facebook following to its advantage with an app that will help you find the perfect gift for your Facebook friends.


M&S is next on the list with an overall SMR score of 52.43 – still above average but not enough to snatch the lead from John Lewis.

This year’s Christmas ad for M&S exploits the X Factor – still (despite declining audience figures) one of the nation’s highest rated television shows – by featuring current X Factor contestants. The ad gets edited as each contestant is eliminated, which has added insult to injury for some of fans of the losing contestants, resulting in a rash of negative sentiment online. M&S continues the theme on its Facebook page, with exclusive backstage content – lovely for X Factor fans, but possibly not of much long term benefit for good old M&S. It’ll be interesting to see how many of the brand’s 461,000 Facebook fans will still be active on its page once the ad is over. On Twitter, M&S ran a competition with @Lookmagazine to win two tickets to the X Factor final, which had over 100 entries, but M&S failed to retweet the promotion to its 48,000 followers – perhaps because the promotion failed to mention its involvement. This is a great example of how an third-party endorsement can overshadow the brand itself.


Matalan has done surprisingly well, and although the brand has a relatively low reach into social media, its satisfaction score is higher than M&S – an opportunity to exploit high customer satisfaction by increasing engagement. But low activity levels mean its reputation suffers, and overall the brand achieved an SMR score of 37.11 out of 100.

Matalan has worked hard to counter negative brand perceptions, working with key fashion bloggers to showcase its Christmas advert, create competitions and incentivise readers. The impact on reputation and reach of this activity has been high, at (we assume) a relatively low cost.

Consumer feelings towards Matalan’s television campaign varied. As with John Lewis, many consumers took to social media to criticise the song choice, with some users enraged that a cult rave song (N-Trance’s Set You Free) was re-written and used on a Matalan TV ad. But if Matalan’s goal was to shift perception, it’s worked: a high number of consumers said they were unaware that Matalan produced such stylish clothes. Some also drew direct comparisons between garments featured in this ad and those featured in the John Lewis and M&S ads.


Iceland has had a hard time of it recently, and its overall SMR score is a lowly 23.59. It’s got people talking – Its reach score was only slightly below Matalan – but consumer satisfaction with the brand is low. The decision to sponsor “I’m a Celebrity, Get me out of Here” and the poorly received TV ad resulted in very little positive sentiment from consumers on social channels.

Many consumers – and to be fair, I can see their point – found it difficult to understand why a frozen food retailer would want to be associated with the show infamous for making contestants eat disgusting things. Several particularly influential social media users ridiculed this sponsorship decision to their multitude of followers, including Jimmy Carr, who tweeted his remarks to his 1.5 million followers on Twitter, and we saw a number of consumers claiming to be under the impression that the advert was in fact just another bush tucker trial.

The strapline ‘party like a celebrity with Iceland’ also came under fire, with cynical consumers arguing they’d never see the likes of Rihanna doing her weekly shop in their local Iceland. Even the nation’s darling Stacy Solomon failed to catch the public imagination, with many – including the influential Heat magazine on Twitter – questioning why the singer fails to talk, or to eat any of the food featured in the advert. There were some positives, though – the song choice on the Stacy Solomon television ad was popular – but not enough to change the overall reputation of the brand.


Littlewoods highlights just how much a bad advertising campaign can impact sentiment. The brand had the lowest satisfaction score of the five , at 12.8, and an overall SMR score of 22.81 out of 100. Maybe advertising that parents are the ones responsible for Christmas gifts isn’t the best way to win over your audience?

Guardian columnist Charlie Brooker led criticism of the advert, tweeting a number of updates to his 406,000 followers. The journalist launched a tirade on November 13, highlighting his negative opinion on the D&G watch shown in the advert, before a further tweet agreed with users who claimed the advert “kills the notion of Santa”.

We all know retailers have to sell products, but the Littlewoods ad went too far for most, with the range of expensive products and a call to pay for them on credit going doing particularly badly in these austere times. Social media users also portrayed the advert as an attempt at emotional blackmail, with the more you buy your child, the better a parent you are. Not a great message.

The biggest – and arguably the most influential – backlash was on Mumsnet (a single post titled ‘to think that Littlewoods advert should be banned?’ had 320 replies). After a string of complaints on Facebook, where Littlewoods has just short of 100,000 ‘likes’, the brand announced to a disgruntled customer that the full-length Christmas advert would no longer be broadcast on TV. Christmas might be the biggest time of year for retailers, but it can also be the time to make the most public, expensive mistakes.

Steve Richards is managing director of specialist social media agency, Yomego.

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