Will Xmas Ads Capture the 'real' Mood of the nation this year?

With so much riding on the Christmas trading period, are we expecting brands to capture joy & wonder of the season in their ads? Or will it be a juggling act between balancing caution & excitement?

By Dani Gibson

Word on the street suggests that Christmas ads this year will be focusing on the idea that the British public will let nothing get in the way of celebrating Christmas this year. A celebration of the wonder and magic of the festive season. But will this be a real representation of the mood of the nation? Amidst an uncertain economy and the ongoing wars, how can brands set the right tone? For brands, Christmas is a crucial sales period but it comes a lot earlier for both marketers and agencies planning for their big campaigns.

So, should it be a tug-of-war between saving money and spreading joy, or perhaps a delicate dance between both? Despite the lingering echoes of the cost of living crisis, is there a palpable sense that consumers are ready to embrace the spirit of celebration once again?

We ask the industry what consumers truly want from this festive season.

Jo Arden, chief strategy officer, Ogilvy

Every year something or other leads us to believe that Christmas advertising will be transformed. It rarely is. Of course, more brands, especially in grocery, will want to emphasise affordability. More people than last will need to make money stretch. But price is important at Christmas every year for the vast majority of families – if we don’t already know this, our goose is cooked.

At the risk of industry introspection, the thing that will disrupt Christmas comms is the number of advertisers that have shiny new agencies this festive season. Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, VERY and even John Lewis are just a few of those ringing the changes. What that means we can expect is some cracking work. There’s nothing like the pressure of a first Christmas to bring out the best in our craft. The agencies involved have taken on their new accounts with the cost of living as the backdrop, starting from scratch with new audiences in the real world to appeal to. From insight to execution, we’re going to get a new take on what’s relevant to the UK now.

Christmas will be tight for many - it always is - but beyond helping our clients to surface the best value of their ranges, we have something else to add: festive fun and a bit of a flex for one of the UKs most important industries.

Mark Sng, chief strategy oficer, Pablo

There was much excitement in March 2019, when it was discovered that the South Asian Sun Bear, the world’s smallest bear, would mimic the facial expressions of other bears in order to create deeper social bonds.

Brands are not bears. Mere mimicry won’t build the bonds we desire. We need understanding. Empathy. Sometimes we are guilty of simply ‘holding up a mirror’ to the lives of our customers and expecting to connect; but it doesn’t work like that.

I only have to say the words ‘unprecedented times’ to elicit a collective eye roll. People tend to encounter ads at times when they’re trying to escape from the worries of their lives, not to be reminded of them. This was borne out in System1’s top Christmas ads of last year - none talked about the cost of living crisis. They went all in on joy and magic and wonder. We’re expecting more of the same this Christmas. Understanding, not mimicry, guides us to be a succour to how they’re feeling now.

Anna Vogt, chief strategy officer, VMLY&R London

For both families in the UK and for brands hoping to capture some of their spending this year, balancing caution and excitement will, once again, be a juggling act to tackle.

The Christmas spirit is a difficult one to access if you’re feeling down and out - checking your bank balance 17 times a day, and seeing interest rates skyrocketing at a time of year when a lot of consumers rely on loans to get them through the season. Helping both reluctant and enthusiastic shoppers alike make it feel like the time of year is for them, wherever they are on the merriment journey, will test our collective EQ.

Understanding all the different shades of the holiday season is an exercise in empathy, rich consumer data and or course creative problem-solving. It’s being tuned into consumer realities, with enticing offers and savings, while also providing an element of creative escapism to reignite that little bit of magic. Those who strike both moments throughout the holiday season will win and shine through.

Matt Tanter and Neasa McGuinness, joint head of strategy, Mother

Every year the same question arises. Sometimes over a year out strategists, creatives, clients and teams are trying to predict “The Mood of the Nation” the following Christmas. As recent years have shown it can be a nigh on impossible task with unpredictable events happening around the world and closer to home that have a real impact on our audience’s lives and their collective mood. Even trying to do now a matter of weeks away is hard.

But if one thing is predictable it is that not everyone is going to be in the same “mood”. In fact it’s safe to say there will be a whole myriad of moods across the length and breadth of the country. Sometimes around the same tree and table. Some feeling excited, some feeling the pinch, some in need of a laugh, others a cry, some will not want Christmas to begin while others never want it to end. And yet in ad-land over recent years too often all ads seem to strive for the same mood, play in the same genre, achieve the same outcome. It’s almost like, collectively the ad industry has decided that everyone feels the same as each other every Christmas.

But wouldn’t it be great if this year we see a plethora of moods to play to plethora of people, needs and emotions people feel this Christmas? Wouldn’t it be great to see it all? That some brands feel free to bring levity, laughs, entertainment, while others show how they can help. Some celebrate heroes and heroines, and many no doubt celebrate the savings they bring. That brands are brave enough to know what they can add and bring their personality in bucket loads to the table. And that collectively there is wide ranging spread catering to everyone. Surprising and delighting in new and different ways.

The best Christmas presents are the ones you love but didn’t know you wanted. Let’s hope this years batch of ads do just the same

Sandie Dilger, chief strategy officer, TBWA/London

Christmas is not a time to hold a mirror up to our ‘how much was that weekly shop’, interest rate angst and political turmoil day to day. I’m afraid the mirror this year is decidedly black so I’m all for some joy spreading at Christmas even if Kevin and his vegetable family have doubled in price in the last twelve months.

As the debate about office attendance and the creeping back of our old friends presentism and office space utilisation gather momentum, we could be in danger of learning nothing from our Covid imposed lockdown.

The same could be said for Christmas. A recent chat around a dinner table revealed that Christmas 2020 is rather fondly remembered by many. Less hours spent brining, basting and battling the motorways and more time spent as a small family unit enjoying our own homes.

Amidst the rules of six, the ever-changing tier system and the misery of an overrun NHS, families carved some Christmas joy out of necessity that now feels almost nostalgic. So, yes to joy but the kind of joy that acknowledges that somehow, we learnt what was really important about Christmas in 2020 and it may well have been that we don’t have to spend a fortune on it to make it memorable.

Theo Izzard-Brown, chief strategy officer, Dentsu Creative

Christmas is truly a poisoned chalice for marketers. In my experience the big retailers start briefing their agencies in January seeking bold innovative ideas, usually by Easter they’ve settled on ‘variation on a theme’ creative solutions. Typically, that theme is a potpourri of joy, togetherness, gratitude, giving, quality, all wrapped up in a seasonal storytelling bow with contemporary celebrity twist and a gentle dusting of populist puns for good measure. To be clear I’m not throwing stones. With so much riding on the Christmas trading period radical brand marketing innovation represents too great a risk for both client and agency alike.

What agency folk do understand however is that client stakeholder management and production timelines require the idea to be locked long before the mood of the nation is ever truly known. Hence erring on the side of revisionist nostalgia and togetherness is a safe bet. For most people Christmas is a final bulwark against all that’s shit in the world. We’d rather tourniquet our belts literally anywhere else if it means we can have a good time with those we love. I predict most brands are smart enough not to remind people of things they’d rather forget e.g. ‘cozzie lives’. Some brands may misguidedly attempt to skewer AI as somehow antithetical to human closeness (ChatGPT blew up in January don’t forget). But since 58 per cent of CMOs agree that advertising today doesn’t entertain enough* my money is on brands plumping for unalloyed joy…and thank goodness.


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