Designing Oxford Street’s Christmas lights

This week saw London’s Oxford Street’s Christmas lights switched on. This year the lights take on a Marmite look, thanks to their ‘love it or hate it’ sponsors. We spoke to DDB, the designer of the lights, and Piggots, the company responsible for making the lights each year, about the process behind creating these festive luminary behemoths.

Oxford Street Christmas lights
Crowds watch the Oxford Street Christmas lights being switched on

Design Week: What are the main considerations in designing the Christmas lights each year?

Lee Harvey, managing director of Piggots: There are no hard and fast rules in what we create for our clients.  Quite often the areas which we create designs for have an individual identity which we try to incorporate into their designs, for example Bond Street tends to be very classical, understated and elegant whereas Oxford Street tends to have a stronger traditional Christmas feel which stands up better to the signage and ambient lighting.  Colours are much more vibrant with the introduction of LED lighting and RGB products meaning that every colour imaginable can be displayed, however traditional ice white and warm white are still favoured by most.

Rob Messeter and Mike Crowe of DDB: For us it always comes from the idea. In this case we wanted to show classic Christmas characters loving and hating the product, new Marmite Gold. But what’s really special about the lights this year, and something we’re proud of, is the interactive banner. People can get their moment of fame by uploading a photo to after the official switch on [users can upload an image of their face online and are then given a time slot, usually after about 24 hours, when their face will be displayed in the lights over Oxford Street]. Something simple and bold. And family friendly.

Robbie Williams' face in the Christmas Lights. Williams switched them on this year.
Robbie Williams’ face in the Christmas Lights. Williams switched them on this year.

DW: What was the brief for this year’s Marmite lights?

LH: Marmite has a really strong brand identity, which allowed us to work with the ‘Love it or hate it’ theme.  This allowed us to use images and characters in a really fun way.

Oxford Street Christmas lights
Oxford Street Christmas lights

DW: How did you come up with the concept, and how was it executed?

RM and MC: We were chatting generally about Christmas and one of us mentioned the Christmas lights and how people always have quite strong feelings of ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’ towards them, which fitted neatly with Marmite’s positioning. We wanted an even mix of Christmas characters loving and hating the new Marmite Gold. And we worked hard to come up with the most entertaining scenes we could. A greedy Christmas fairy flying off with toast, reindeer smashing a jar into pieces, elves having a tug-of-war, etc. Sometimes our ideas were too extreme and ended up in the bin.

DW: What’s been the best Christmas lights project to work on and why?

LH: It is so difficult to choose any one scheme over another as each design we have produced creates excitement. The Marmite scheme this year brings some fun back to the lights with character images being displayed in a way which can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.  Overall I think the public likes to see the lights as it brings a real sense of celebration and makes the whole Christmas shopping experience a really special time for family. 

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