More chocolate bars, More shared moments of humanity?
It’s no secret that John Lewis are notorious for creating simplistic heart-warming Christmas adverts that makes us rush to grab a tissue box almost every time. However, in 2014 polls showed Sainsbury’s Christmas Advert championing John Lewis’s reigning position with an advert that re-created a historic moment from World War 1. Despite many adverts coming and going, I wanted to investigate why this advert stuck with me 4 years after its making.
The advert starts with German and British soldiers temporarily putting down their arms at Christmas to greet and exchange gifts and ends with a German solider unwrapping his gift of British chocolate. Money collected from customers buying the £1 chocolate bar featured was sent to the Royal British Legion charity.
The success of the advert was shown by Sainsburys selling an astonishing ‘5,000 chocolate bars per hour’.
What made this advert so successful?
Advertisements’ strategy to market Christmas as a time for ‘sharing’ is no new theme but how did Sainsburys achieve such an increased behaviour change in sales?
The advert’s emphasis on emotional stimulation and increasing empathy is probably the biggest teller of its success. By using employing storytelling (Pratkanis, 2007) we as an audience are immediately captivated by the causal narrative of two young men bravely stepping into ‘No Man’s Land’ to greet one another. This narrative technique is often used within charitable organisations to help create positive emotions in the consumer to help the person in need when being given the opportunity to donate (Merchant et al., 2010).
Another main influential technique used within the narrative of the advert was reciprocity (Cialidini, 2001) . In the advert we first see a young British solider going to the top and then a German Solider repaying the favour in doing the same. This rule of reciprocity is effective in building relationships with people we may not ordinarily like by using this feeling of indebtedness (Cialidini,2001). The power of this strategy is shown when two notorious enemies German and British soldiers follow suit in exchanging greetings and gifts. Furthermore, I realised that this would have also increased customers motivations to buy chocolate bars by making us feel indebted to the sacrifice of past veterans and feel obligated to pay this forward.
While watching, we remain constantly on edge between feelings of happiness at the soliders camaraderie and fear at the impending war. This effect of ‘emotional see-sawing’ is likely to have been effective in fuelling sales since change in emotional equality can often increase compliance (Dolinski & Nawrat, 2007). For example, increased emotional stimulation tends to release oxytocin (the neurochemical responsible for both empathy and narrative transportation) that research has linked to increased generosity (Barazza & Zack, 2011). Linn et al. (2013) also found that the people who were given oxytocin before watching public service advertisements donated 56% more money than the placebo group. Similarly, by getting the audience emotionally invested in the veterans’ brave sacrifice we are likely to have a greater inclination to want to donate to the cause.
Lastly, by tying their Christmas Advert to the significance of WWI starting 100 years earlier, Sainsburys effectively uses the strategy of the availability heuristics (Tverysky & Kahneman, 1973 ). In making us associate Christmas with the haunting memory of WWI, greater emotional meaning is ascribed to the advert, making it more likely to be impressed into our long-term memories. This effect of strengthening emotional associations to increase memory recall has been shown from early research. For example, Hamann et al (1999) found that amygdala encoding when watching emotional films led to enhanced memory recognition for the stimuli when assessed month later. Research also shows that invoking personal nostalgia in this way by linking Christmas with a historic British Event is likely to have enhanced people’s inclinations to donate (Ford el at., 2010)
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