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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

ADdicted: A Tale of Two Santa Ads

I'll admit I can be somewhat of a Scrooge around the holiday season.

It's a fairly common trait among those of us born just a few days before Christmas, I think.

I don't allow holiday films and music to be played in my house until December 1st each year, but the marketer in me can't resist enjoying the ads of the season as soon as they appear.

Last week I discovered two new holiday ads, both starring Jolly St. Nick.

But these are two very different ads.

Capital One released a spot featuring Santa... played by the one-and-only John Travolta.

I like Travolta as an actor, and you can't help but tap your feet when you hear Stayin' Alive.

But I didn't like this ad at all.

The storyteller in me hated it because it left me with too many questions about Santa. How does "Cool Santa" have time to strut down the street... shouldn't he be busy preparing for his biggest day of the year? Why is he buying all that stuff... doesn't he have an army of elves to make things for him? And, seriously, what's up with the disco scene? Why, Santa, why?

The marketer in me hates this ad for three reasons:

  1. I don't know why John Travolta is being used in this spot, or how he ties to the holiday season at all. It's as if a senior marketer at Capital One said, "You know, I'd like to meet John Travolta... let's see if he'd be willing to do an ad for us." I genuinely can't see another reason why this creative choice was made.

  2. I don't like ads where the product usage is so in-your-face, and Santa tapping his credit card multiple times during the commercial (with the camera focusing on the credit card tap each time) is as in-your-face as you can get.

  3. And yet, despite what I just wrote, if you offered me one million dollars to tell me the name of the credit card Santa Travolta flashed all those times during this commercial, I wouldn't be able to collect. My brain was so focused on Santa Travolta that I couldn't absorb the name of the card or the benefit that was flashed several times during the spot. (You might remember seeing "1.5%"... but can you tell me what it's for? Exactly.)

At the end of the spot, I knew it was a Capital One ad because I remember Travolta saying the company's tagline: "What's in your wallet?" But that speaks more to the strength of the long-running tagline than it does to the strength of the otherwise forgettable ad.

Now let's compare Capital One's Santa spot to another one that debuted last week...

... from the company that invented the modern-day image of Santa Claus.*

The main character of the ad was the same.

The music was just as catchy.

But, oh, that story!

The world does need more Santas, more than ever, and this beautiful spot shows us all a few small ways that we can all stand in for the big guy on any given day.

I'll openly admit Coca-Cola is just as guilty as CapitalOne when it comes to plastering its logos and products throughout the spot. But, somehow, the Coca-Cola placements feel less intrusive and more integrated into the story: I don't mind seeing a couple of Coke bottles sitting on the table in a restaurant because it feels natural for the bottles to be there. I don't mind spending a few seconds staring at a Coca-Cola vending machine because it plays a role in the larger story being told. Coca-Cola isn't trying to be the star of this ad; when the product appears, it's not trying to steal the spotlight from the leading actor, which is all of us.

Is this spot going to be effective?

According to Andrew Tindal, Global Partnerships Director for System1, this spot might be one of the most effective holiday ads this year. (You can read System1's full report here.)

But I don't think you need the research to know that.

Not if you got a little lump in your throat at the end of the ad like I did.


* It's true! You think of Santa Claus as a big, jolly man with a white beard and a red suit because that's the way Coca-Cola has featured him in its holiday advertising since the 1920s!


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