'Tis the season when you must separate your holiday-season marketing from everyone else's.

A humorous advertising campaign from U.K. retailer Currys PCWorld offers a fantastic case study for how it's done. The television ads star actor Jeff Goldblum and are directed by David Shane, who has a reputation as a master of short-form comedy. "While this campaign casts [Goldblum] in a less quirky role than usual, Shane's direction makes great use of his comedic skills," notes Creativity Online, an Ad Age web site.

You probably can't spend on your own campaign what Currys PCWorld spent on this one--it's a $15 million job by ad firm AMV BBDO, according to Ad Age. But you can certainly learn from the marketing strategy of these commercials. The top lesson is a concept that's easy to grasp but difficult to execute: The idea of making awkward topics relatable through humor, honesty, and empathy. 

In this case, the awkward topic is the holidays. Specifically, it's the way all of us act, when we're put in uncomfortable holiday situations: When you're underwhelmed by a gift from a loved one; when you're pretending to enjoy a poorly cooked meal; when you're enduring someone else's favorite movie. 

Wouldn't it be great if you could be coached on how to act at all of these awkward moments--by a renowned actor? That, in short, is the concept behind these commercials. They begin by depicting all of the above uncomfortable scenarios. And just when it seems like one family member or another is not "acting" properly, in walks Goldblum--playing himself--to deliver a tutorial. For example, here's how to act when the turkey your younger brother prepared doesn't taste good: 



Of course, the family meal gone awry is just one holiday experience we all most live though--and act through. Another is when the person you love most gives you a gift that makes you think: Do you even know who I am? For example, when your wife decides that the best gift she could give you is foot talc:



In all of these ads, it's the viewer who comes first. Only toward the tail end of each commercial does Goldblum or one of the other of the actors mention how the awkwardness could've been avoided if only you'd purchased the proper state-of-the-art device at Currys PCWorld. Even then, the mentions of these devices--a Bosch oven or Nespresso coffee maker or an Intel-powered Microsoft Surface tablet or LG OLED television--are hammed up to humorous effect, like tongue-in-cheek product placements.

What's fantastic about these ads, too, is the way that Goldblum doesn't ridicule the giver of the lousy gift or the maker of the tasteless turkey. He encourages the disappointed party to empathize with the reasons the gift or the meal went wrong. 

As Inc.com columnist John Boitnott has pointed out, the most important way to make awkward topics relatable is to tell stories that show an audience you understand their plight. For this reason alone, the Currys PCWorld commercials will stand out during the holiday season. By contrast, most retailers still advertise for the holidays by sugarcoating them as the most wonderful time of the year.

You can apply this sort of thinking--connecting to a target audience with honesty about awkward moments--in all sorts of marketing campaigns. "What we do in the bathroom used to be a taboo topic until Charmin decided to use it as their primary social-media content source," writes Boitnott. "Now, you probably can't #tweetfromtheseat without thinking about the lovable bear family and their trusted toilet paper. They took an awkward topic and flipped it on its head with one simple concept: everybody does it, so we can all relate."

Published on: Nov 9, 2015