Littlewoods: The retailer took a traditional position for its Christmas campaign

Marketing's unique weekly analysis of advertisement recall in association with TNS.

Did anyone actually leave the house on Boxing Day? Perhaps not, as research released by Experian suggests many of us spent most of the day shopping online - 126m website visits, accounting for 17m hours spent browsing and buying. That's a lot of hours. Having shopped until we dropped, the e-tills rang up the princely sum of £472.5m. A triumph for the online retailers.

This is why I have chosen to look at the Littlewoods Christmas spot - an innovative online-only retailer fighting it out in the cut-throat crush of pre-Christmas advertising, going toe-to-toe with the other big-spending retailers and coming out (almost) on top.

Littlewoods has bounced back from the controversy of its 2011 Christmas outing - which drew some heat for neglecting to credit Santa with any role whatsoever in delivering the seasonal goods. This time around it went the other way, with a classic scene that could not be more traditional, featuring the most archetypal Santa Claus imaginable, Myleene Klass as his beautiful fairy-princess helper and small angelic children dressed as tin soldiers. The ad oozed old-fashioned charm as Littlewoods aimed to remain 'true to the story of Santa Claus', according to its group brand director, Gary Kibble.

It's this old-fashioned traditionalism that is interesting - from Shop Direct Group, owner of Littlewoods, which claims, with good reason, to be one of the most innovative '21st-century businesses'. This approach - from an aggressive digital etailer offering 0% finance on all purchases - clearly works, and manages to connect an 80-year-old brand name with a business model that is only eight years old (the Littlewoods stores closed in 2005).

It is somehow a sign of the maturity and confidence of the ecommerce sector that it can feel comfortable embracing such traditional imagery in such an overt way.

Indeed, Shop Direct seems to have nailed this Christmas ad thing - three of its online-only brands are in the top six of the Adwatch chart. Someone must be doing something right. Scratch the surface, and it turns out Littlewoods is a genuine innovator when it comes to marketing - embracing digital content, exploiting its owned and earned media in new ways, even launching the retailing world's first live broadcast on Facebook earlier this year.

It is all the more surprising, therefore, that it opted for such a conventional approach at Christmas - by which I mean that it led its marketing with a standalone 30-second spot backed by a sleigh-full of media money - £4.2m.

It would be nice to see 'the Littlewoods touch' come of age next year: using the TV spot as an engaging shop window for a genuinely big digital idea that drives to online content, to clicks and sales more directly. I, for one, will look out for it.

Brand strategy verdict

The strategy may have been to rectify the shortcomings of 2011's Christmas spot, but it works. New-age, 21st-century businesses can do old-school.

8 out of 10

- Which of the following TV commercials do you remember seeing recently?

Adwatch (16 Jan) Total Recall: Littlewoods
Latest rank Jan-16 Brand Agency/TV buyer Recall
1 -2 Argos  CHI&Partners/Mindshare 64
2 -3 Littlewoods  St Luke's/Carat 53
3 -20 Tesco  Wieden & Kennedy/Initiative 52
4 -7 Very.co.uk  St Luke's/Carat 49
5 -4 Marks & Spencer  RKCR Y&R/Walker Media 46
6 (5=) Isme  Contagious Content/Carat 42
7 (–) Vodafone  RKCR Y&R/OMD UK 39
8 (9=) McDonald's  Leo Burnett/OMD UK 38
9= (–) DFS  Krow/MediaCom 36
9= (–) Subway  McCann London/MediaCom Scotland 36
9= (18=) Boots  Mother/OMD UK 36
12 (9=) Aldi  McCann Manchester/UM Manchester 34
13= (–) Morrisons  DLKW Lowe/MEC 33
13= (–) Asda  Saatchi & Saatchi/Carat 33
15= (16=) Currys/PC World  M&C Saatchi/Walker Media 30
15= -13 Carphone Warehouse  CHI&Partners/mSix 30
17 (–) Lloyds TSB  RKCR Y&R/MEC 28
18= (–) Sainsbury's  Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO/PHD 27
18= (–) Amazon Kindle  In-house/Mindshare 27
20 (–) Homebase  Leo Burnett/Mindshare 26

Adwatch research was conducted from 13-17 December 2012 by TNS as part
of its twice-weekly OnLineBus omnibus among 1000 adults aged 16-64. For
details of the survey, contact Bob.Salmons@tnsglobal.com (020 7160
5550). Advertisements were compiled by Ebiquity (020 7650 9700) and
Mediaedge:cia UK (020 7803 2000).

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