It’s that time of year when talking about advertising creeps into normal life. Whether down the pub or among family and friends, someone somewhere will be offering their opinion on a retailer’s festive TV ad.

This is usually a treat for me, a chance to give my ‘expert’ opinion, yet this year it all seems to have become rather formulaic and I’m niggled by the fact that brands are getting lost by the magical fantastical Chrismassyness of it all.

Long gone are the days when all you had to do was display your usual ad among an array of tinsel and baubles, and add green and red to your branding. It may have been cheesy, but it was always very clear from the start which retailer you were watching.

Christmas TV ads today are all about the magic, fantasy and wonder of Christmas; delivering emotional stories that hark back to childhood memories. I’d even go as far as to say that they fall into three camps – family, fantasy and party – but while they all tell a different story, they are also interchangeable; more often than not you will have absolutely no idea who the brand is until the end frame.

For the rest of the year, advertising is all about demonstrating a clear brand proposition. At Christmas the brand seems to be lost and there are very few – if any – elements that are visibly intrinsic to a certain retailer.

Don’t get me wrong, Christmas advertising has developed in this way for one reason and that’s because it’s proven to work. What I find most surprising is that it suddenly feels like everyone’s working to the same brief and the outcome is almost formulaic.

Waitrose stands out as an exception by placing their identity and values at the heart of their approach with a series of adverts in which the brand is immediately recognisable. But while staying true to its roots, it didn’t perform so well socially.

There’s no doubt that the times have changed and as well as debuting your ad during prime time TV, you also have to consider the new KPIs such as use of YouTube views, hashtag tracking and the number of people sharing your message online. Digital agency Kindred recently vetted the social performance of several major retailers and Waitrose fell down on most accounts against the likes of M&S, Debenhams and ASDA, and of course, John Lewis – which stood out head and shoulders above the rest.

You’d have to be living in a hole in the ground to have missed one of the festive season’s biggest TV treats – John Lewis’ The Bear and The Hare; a wonderful tear-jerking animation, which went immediately to the hearts of millions with Christmas appeal compared to The Snowman.

This goes beyond anything I’ve ever seen at Xmas. It’s certainly unique and its success isn’t a happy accident. It was orchestrated with accompanying music on sale at iTunes, an online Christmas card maker, an opportunity to have your photo taken with The Bear and The Hare in-store. There are The Bear and The Hare cuddly toys and they even have their own Twitter IDs.

John Lewis has effectively created a brand in its own right that will probably live way beyond Christmas 2013. Now there isn’t anything formulaic about that.

Adam Tregaskis