Christmas balls or balls up?

The annual transatlantic Christmas commercial challenge is on again, and for me it’s no contest.

The Poms may have lost the first test, but they smashed it against the Yanks in the UK versus US holiday ad stakes.

The difference is really “Crass-mas” versus “Christmas”.

Kmart US corners the market in questionable taste with its ‘Show Your Joe’ spot. Half a dozen tuxedoed guys stand behind a table performing as a hand-bell choir. The table slides away to show the tuxedos were only on their top halves – the ‘gentlemen’ reveal they are wearing festive Joe Boxer underwear, and proceed to perform Jingle Bells (or perhaps that should be Jingle Balls) in a less conventional way.

This is not a one off effort for Kmart – it comes hot on the heels of another TV spot called ‘Ship My Pants’ (and I’ll leave that one to your imagination).


On the other side of the pond, UK department store, John Lewis, spent A$1.7 million painstakingly crafting a mini-movie for Christmas called ‘The Bear and the Hare’.

The animated spot features frames hand drawn by a Disney artist and tells the tale of a bear who always misses Christmas due to a natural need to hibernate. His good friend the hare fixes that issue by giving the gift of an old fashioned alarm clock, and the bear wakes up to join a host of animals around a Christmas tree in a snowy forest.

All of this is set to a soundtrack of Lily Allen singing Keane’s ‘Somewhere Only We Know’. John Lewis is making the bear and the hare available as soft toys for Christmas and is also selling the classic clock.


Personally I don’t think this year’s effort by John Lewis is as good as previous years. But the UK public is lapping it up. And I definitely think that a hare on a bear beats balls in boxer shorts.

But opinions aside, what do the stats say?

In terms of social media hits, Kmart wins pants down. By the time you read this, Kmart’s blatant viral video will have garnered 14 million plus YouTube views, versus John Lewis’ Christmas film, which will have attracted 9 million-odd.

Where it really counts, however, the UK department store wins.

Most recently, Kmart’s same store sales were down 2.1 per cent, whereas John Lewis’ half year like for likes were up 5.1 per cent.

Innuendo might get you eyeballs, but it won’t win you hearts.

Besides these two ads, which festive commercials from the northern hemisphere are worth watching? My top picks follow.

From the UK – Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, and Harvey Nichols (very different, very funny). From the US – Gap, Target, and Macy’s.

Enjoy. And as the Americans say, Happy Holidays.

Jon Bird is chairman of specialist retail marketing agency IdeaWorks and Octomedia, publisher of Inside Retail. Email: Blog: Twitter: @thetweetailer

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