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Edgar the Dragon and the rise of multi-million pound Christmas ads

Excitable Edgar bumbled onto our TV screens last month, signalling the start of the 'golden period' of Christmas advertising where companies will spend around £6.8bn in an attempt to sway customers.

By Tom Taylor, Digital Editor

Excitable Edgar bumbled onto our TV screens last month, signalling the start of the 'golden period' of Christmas advertising where companies will spend around £6.8bn in an attempt to sway customers.

Maybe it’s because I’m a secret Bastille fan, or perhaps because Edgar’s scarf wrapped snout is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, but this year I was completely taken by John Lewis and Partners’ Christmas ad. Since 2007, the retail giant has poured millions into its annual festive offering and, for some, their adverts have come to signal the beginning of the Christmas period.

A rather podge baby dragon and his human friend were the stars of the company’s 2019 advert, the first to include John Lewis’ sister chain, Waitrose. Set in medieval-hamlet-come-Victorian-village, the advert follows ‘Excitable Edgar’, a dragon, in his attempts to contribute to various festive preparations without setting fire to everything. At the end of the ad, in what genuinely brought a solitary tear to my eye, he finally discovers his Christmas calling: lighting the alcohol soaked figgy pudding.

Edgar and his human friend try to help their town prepare for Christmas | Youtube / Guardian News

As inevitable as the advert’s arrival, is the criticism which accompanies efforts to profit from festive cheer and, most importantly, the tradition of present giving. Some argue that the true meaning of Christmas, a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, is lost when focus is shifted to materialistic consumerism. For those who celebrate religious and non-religious festivals in the winter period, such as Hanukkah, Pancha Ganapati or the Winter Solstice, the commercialisation of the festive period can be seen as a distraction from their celebration.

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Whilst this criticism is valid, the reality of late capitalism in the UK is that advertising companies have a great deal of influence in our daily lives. This is unlikely to end anytime soon. Personally, I would rather influential companies spend time and effort into creating a well-polished short film, with much artistic merit, than subject me to loud, clunky ads.

Walkers reportedly paid Mariah Carey £9m to promote their range of crisps

Or maybe I’m just trying to justify in my own mind why I enjoyed the advert so much. Regardless of whether this particular Bristol Uni student approves or not, companies will spend around £6.8bn on adverts during the ‘golden period’ leading up to the 25th December. The big players, John Lewis, Sainsburys and M&S included, compete to grab the attention of consumers on TV, billboards and online.

Edgar's big eyes and rotund tum make him adorable | Epigram / Harry Sullivan

Whilst commentators dispute how beneficial Christmas ads actually are to a company’s sales, there is seemingly a culture of corporate FOMO. This translates to huge investment and lucrative deals with advertising agencies such as Adam & Eve / DDB who have produced the John Lewis ads since 2009. Walkers reportedly paid £9m to Mariah Carey to promote their limited-edition range of crisps.

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This is not just rich companies splashing cash and seeing how it goes. Last year was tough financially for John Lewis and Partners, who reported their first ever half-year loss. It’s not a secret that department stores are struggling as highlighted by the collapse of Toys ‘R’ Us and House of Fraser.

There is seemingly a culture of corporate FOMO

John Lewis believe it is a risk worth taking. Speaking to the BBC, a spokeswoman said, ‘Our ads always deliver an excellent return on investment at a time of year that is critical for us, generally delivering 20 times the return on our original spend.’

Not only driving general sales, adverts can also create opportunities for merchandising such as a £15 plush Edgar and a fluffy version of Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot which was hugely popular with consumers.

Aldi had considerable success with Kevin the Carrot | Youtube / Aldi Ireland

It is disconcerting when brands try to appear as our friend or tug on heartstrings. The phenomenon of social media influencers who befriend impressionable teenagers and exploit low self-esteem to sell dubious products is particularly disturbing.

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So, I can have more respect of a branded short film, like Edgar, than more devious advertising practices. Advertising is almost everywhere, and although I would rather it was not shoved in my face, I would rather it be high-quality than cheaply exploitative.

Featured: Courtesy of John Lewis and Partners

Did you find Edgar adorable or just plain annoying? Let us know.