What Do Xmas Ads Say About The Mood of The Nation And The Industry?
Teetering on the edge of a recession, we ask industry insiders what they make of this year's crop of Christmas campaigns
23 November 2022
Advertising tends to serve creativity that reflects the society, reassuring audiences when times are tough through escapist lenses or offering a dose of realism when change is needed. So what do the Christmas ads of 2022 say about the current state of the nation? Featuring a mix of nostalgia (Asda revives Buddy the Elf, a comforting movie many people have seen over the years), emotion (Taika Waititi's Amazon ad tugs at the heart strings) and humour (The&Partnership's Argos spot), marketers have adopted all sorts of approaches - with Co-op even opting to forgo an ad this year in favour of promoting affordable community food projects. What, too, do these ads say about the mood of agencies and marketers?
Micky Tudor, CCO at The&Partnership
This year the advertising world essentially tried to answer one question: What really matters at Christmas given the cost-of-living crisis?
So, it’s no surprise that stories of ‘giving back’ or ‘spending time with family’ were a strong theme. Amazon wanted us to believe that joy isn’t bought it is made, (as long as you buy something like, say, a paper shredder) and McDonalds tried to persuade us that the best thing on a kid’s Christmas list is time with family (yeah right).
It is not an easy narrative for retailers to authentically say when so much of the success of the year depends on the sales made over the festive period. John Lewis did it best with an ad that talked about a caring act, and Co-Op did it most honestly with its act of not making an advert at all.
Asda and Aldi took a different approach. They went for the warm, comforting glow of nostalgia with new takes on old Christmas movies. Nostalgia brings the reminder of a better time. It’s a powerful short cut to things that we have all collectively pre-approved, and ‘son of a Nutcracker’ did Asda do it well.
Argos and Tesco both found a simpler answer to the question. In dark days, what if we just brought a smile. Not just a smile but a big old toothy grin. When the mood of the nation is heavy, what better Christmas gift could Advertising give than to lift it. Even if it is just for 30 seconds on a cold, wet Wednesday night.
Dan Cole & Andy Garnett, executive creative directors at Havas London
It feels like Christmas ads this year are in slight state of limbo – not knowing whether to cheer the nation up or put their arms around us. In truth, we all need a bit of both, so they’re probably a good barometer of the mood of the nation right now. Every agency working on these campaigns knew tough times were heading our way when we got the briefs earlier in the year. But unless anyone had access to the inner workings of Liz Truss and her mates, we probably couldn’t have guessed exactly how tough. So it seems that’s reflected in the very different tones. For Asda, we had a clear idea of the role we wanted to play – bringing a smile to the nation when it needs it the most. Buddy’s effervescent enthusiasm for all things Christmas fit so well with Asda’s tone and brand personality. At the other end of the spectrum, Co-op’s stance is brave and to be applauded too – but it could only work for a brand like theirs.
Alison Hoad, chief strategy officer at Publicis.Poke
With the notable exception of Scrooge and the Grinch, Christmas stories are full of characters on a quest to deliver Christmas spirit against impossible odds – from the Big Man himself, to Kevin McCallister’s Mum desperate to get home, to Arthur Christmas etc. This season, the nation, and the industry at large, are most definitely not letting the Grinch steal Christmas. Despite the cost-of-living crisis, advertisers have mainly veered away from commercialism in favour of emotive stories brimming with Christmas spirit. And it’s not just me saying ‘Thank Santa’ for that - the research company, System 1 reported last week that this year’s Christmas ads performed more highly than previous years. However, with inflation running at 11.1 per cent, there’s no escaping the truth that no matter how hard we squeeze our eyes and ‘Believe’ in this coming Christmas, much like Kevin in Home Alone, when we open them, we’ll still be facing a hard truth - a more costly Christmas than before. I believe the nation will reward those brands that not only offer escapism but crucially also help them fulfil their own personal quests this Christmas - finding affordable ways to bring the spirit of Christmas home to their loved ones.
James Parnum, head of planning at Mediacom
If advertising is a mirror on society, then this Christmas is reflecting back the best side of ourselves. And in the post-pandemic and financially challenging times we face currently, who can blame them?
But advertising doesn’t always need to be gritty and earnest, it can and should be optimistic and joyful, and that’s what we have in this year’s crop of Christmas adverts. Oodles of joy to be seen and heard; whether they be joyful Hollywood homages (Asda, Aldi), literally standing up for joy to happen this year (Tesco, Boots), the joy of getting the last pigs in blankets (Waitrose), or even the joy in the exclusive Men’s Football World Cup x Christmas collaboration (Nike, Sports Direct, Paddy Power). And lastly, the joyful art of the epic Christmas rug pull, be it through the gift of – fostering (John Lewis), snow globes (Amazon)… or, your children (Heathrow, McDonald’s).
Often, some smart-ass media planner like me will pull out the fact that the ‘ads aren’t as entertaining as the television’. According to TGI, only a quarter of the nation agree with this statement these days. But maybe… just maybe, this year’s much needed injection of optimism and joy will help entertain the whole nation. Heaven knows we need it right now.
Jo Arden, chief strategy officer at Ogilvy
Christmas ads are never a reflection of what the country is feeling now right now; even the smartest of strategist could not have planned for the year we have had between briefing and launch. They are, at best, a hedged bet on what the mood might be. And if that bet was ‘confused’ then collectively brands have nailed it. There’s a bunch of stuff which is trying to be John Lewis (including, weirdly, John Lewis); some valiant attempts to establish distinctive Christmas assets (bad luck Barbour who’s asset, Paddington Bear will never cue anything now but Her late Majesty); and some cop-outs by way of Christmas movies remade. There is some commendably light touch on price and value – TK Maxx balances buying nice gifts with not breaking the bank.
There’s a bit of weird advertising talking to advertising which – Sky has a pop at the JohnLewisification of Christmas ads, as does Lidl (I think, it was all a bit meta). It’ll be interesting to see how both land in the real world.
The ads that are the most successful are those which reflect back a Christmas we can relate to; the well-observed minutiae which reflect a common experience. Tesco’s “when is bin day?” and Argos’ “we’ll need a bigger bowl” will both draw a smile I’m sure.
There is so much pressure to ‘get Christmas right’ that it can be easy for agencies and brands to forget that the mood at Christmas will always be, Christmassy, and we don’t need to make it more worthy than that.