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Two very different snowmen

Jane Priest, Teaching Fellow

Faculty Blog

Two very British institutions – John Lewis and Irn Bru – and two very different takes on the festive season.

Every year, around the beginning of November, a buzz of excitement ignites in the UK media. Forget about the festive season’s must-see TV shows, the big news is what is going to be the best Christmas ad!

Enter John Lewis, the upmarket UK department store that has produced some of the most popular and talked about festive commercials. This year, the John Lewis advert was so hotly anticipated that it was given, well, its own advert.

John Lewis was established in London in the late 1800s. At the same time, but 400 miles north in a Scottish town called Falkirk, a company called AG Barr was establishing itself and Irn Bru, the soft drink that has grown to become Scotland’s favourite and a direct competitor against global brands like Coca-Cola.

Irn Bru is also renowned for imaginative and popular advertising. But unlike John Lewis’s annual unveilings, Barr resisted the temptation to create a Christmas TV ad until 2006. Six years on the Irn Bru advert is still immensely enjoyed among its niche, with almost 1.5 million views on YouTube.

Generally speaking, buying a soft drink is a relatively low-involvement decision that requires little mental effort. Favourable attitudes can be formed through mere exposure to branding. People are especially receptive to classical conditioning; communications which repeatedly associate a brand with something appealing to the target audience, in Irn Bru’s case its ‘Scottishness’ (notice how the Snowman flies over the Forth Bridge and Edinburgh Castle).

Buying a pair of gloves from John Lewis isn’t the most important purchase decision you’ll ever make either. But if they are a gift for a loved one, the decision gets a whole lot harder because the wrong decision could trigger all sorts of undesirable social repercussions.

What both the John Lewis and Irn Bru ads do is increase involvement by linking to important issues – national pride, family love – and tapping into important issues of our self-identity, encouraging us bond to with the brands. I must admit, I like both these ads; I think they are both two British institutions (in both senses of the word) which have used creativity and innovation to remain relevant to the British public for over 100 years.