The Christmas campaign verdict

We ask brand, creative and media agency leaders to share their views on this year's Christmas campaigns and how impacted they are creatively by Covid-19

A shift towards togetherness and uplifting, fun creative is one of the consequences of Covid we’re seeing in this year’s Christmas campaigning, according to several agency industry leaders.  

Alongside CMO’s annual Christmas campaigns round-up, we reached out to a number of creative, media and brand agencies to see how they’re reading the overarching themes and approaches taken to Christmas this year, whether Covid’s change brand behaviours towards the festive season, and if there is indeed the same level of emphasis being placed on celebrating Yuletide.  

Here, we share their verdicts.      

The Christmas themes  

CMO: Are you seeing any consistent or recurring themes or approach in the creative / narrative brands are embracing this Christmas campaign season?   

Five by Five Global executive creative director, Craig Bailey: This year is different. While creative historically gravitates to festive tropes, this year there is a noticeable focus on togetherness in the campaigns we’re seeing. Brands are seeking to embrace the notion of families coming together. Chaos, emotion and an elevated appreciation of each other - it’s all there.  

Ironically, the separation caused from lockdowns has heightened the urge to be together and Christmas is providing the perfect tonic to elicit an even more emotional response than usual.  

Ogilvy chief strategy officer, Toby Harrison: Is it Christmas? Really, you could have fooled me. Perhaps that’s because I haven’t really encountered anything that ‘Christmassy’ yet. If anything, this year feels very far from one filled with Christmas cheer.  

Traditionally, brands at Xmas time have played the role of a cheerleader – making us feel excited and getting us in the spirit so we can splash the cash. Unsurprisingly, not too many brands have been game enough to go full ‘Santa’ at a time when everyone is pretty much fed up with everything.       

M&C Saatchi strategy director, Damien Eames: Our second year living with Covid has accelerated a shift towards more uplifting, fun ads over the sentimental and often long-form ads made famous by John Lewis.   

For a few years in the UK, Europe and North America (more than Australia admittedly), the rise of the big, heartstring-pulling ad seemed to be unstoppable. However, with so many brands doing this, it became ever harder to get noticed, so it's no surprise many brands have chosen a different way to connect. Plus we've all sat through plenty of earnest Covid work through the rest of the year. So much of that has been about human connection, about focusing on the things that really matter. Why not have a bit of fun at Christmas?  

Clemenger BBDO Melbourne head of planning, Jacqueline Witts: Brands that will win at Christmas this year take their message from hopeful to helpful.  

The psychology of Christmas this year is heavily influenced by the past two years of our lives. Because we haven't had the moments we have wanted with family, because we have been kept apart, those of us [generally speaking; women] who really put the work into Christmas have a desire to make it really special. With that comes pressure and stress.  

At Clemenger, we have seen through our AustraliaNow study that, as Christmas approaches, women in particular are becoming more stressed. Their worries range from larger financial and emotional concerns, right through to the little details: from planning the pre-dinner cocktails to wondering whether their online purchases are going to arrive on time.  

This year, we have seen our supermarket brands paint a perfect picture of Christmas, where we are all reunited and enjoying each other's company in a state of laughter and bliss. Let's hope we all get that (or something close to it). But what I think has been most powerful this year are brands that focused on utility and usefulness in their Christmas messages. They’re striking the right note. Clever brands that perhaps recognised the role they played during the pandemic and want that active role to continue.

Christmas investments  

CMO: Across your clients, how does this year’s investment into Christmas campaign creative compare to previous years? Are we seeing more or less emphasis than usual on the festive season in creative work?  

Harrison: By mid-November, the airwaves used to be the awash with Santa and Curtis Stone, but this year there’s a noticeable lack of jingling bells in the air. Perhaps we are waking up to the fact Christmas in this country isn’t a predominantly ‘Christian’ affair anymore.  As we are now ‘officially’ the most multi-cultural nation on the planet, it’s refreshing to see the Anglo-Saxon monoculture isn’t quite as pervasive as it once was.  

Eames: This year there is a broad range of approaches to the Covid context, from ignoring it completely to leaning in heavily. For many brands, including our work for Woolworths, the creative feels as though it’s shaped by Covid but not about it.   

I don't think there's any running away from the festive season in Christmas advertising, but how brands lean into it changes. This year, it seems more spots are grounded in people's real Christmas - or a playful, twisted or hyperreal take on actual Christmas - rather than full blown fantasy.   

Bailey: There’s probably less emphasis on Christmas themed work this year. The pandemic disrupted schedules and uncertainty caused a big re-think on approaches to market with an emphasis on 2022 planning. I’ve not detected much celebration of Christmas ads by comparison to previous years.  

Most of Five by Five’s advertising at this time of year tends to be in the very early stages of Christmas because video game releases like Call of Duty hit digital shelves in early November. That [gaming and entertainment] sector shows no signs of change from previous years in terms of the approach. Their audiences are more immersed and don’t expect to have the product contextualised to the world in real life.  

Covid Christmas hangover  

CMO: What impact do you believe the experiences of the pandemic over the last 20 months has had on the creative and narrative approach of Christmas campaigns broadly in Australia (and also globally) this year?    

Harrison: If anything, I get the feeling a lot of brands have been so busy trying to stay alive that the ‘brand-building’ opportunity that is Xmas has been sidelined in favour of supposedly ‘harder-working retail’ work. Considering the uncertainty still hanging over much of the nation, I’m pretty sure most marketers are holding their breath (and their budget) back to spend in what they hope will be a more fruitful year ahead.  

Bailey: We created some important work last year on behalf of the British Retailer Consortium designed to encourage early gift buying to take pressure off the logistics effort. In many ways, the guiding sentiment of 2020 was simpler than it is this year across the world. Society has polarised to a degree on a range of issues relating to the pandemic so there are more emotional nuances that need to be considered as well as the practical ones relating to supply of goods that all add up to advertiser uncertainty.

For many brands, it’s all too hard I suspect. Maybe it’s now less relevant to reflect Christmas themes in advertising generally. It’s hard for a brand to not come off as conceited in trying to be relevant especially when there’s regional differences in outlook within Australia. The sentiment in Perth would be very different to Melbourne for example.  

Eames: Last year was probably more challenging compared to this year, as marketers have learnt it is hard to second guess the path of Covid. Rather than try to get the right message for the right moment, we knew that the different experiences across states meant there was unlikely to be one right message for everyone. So this has probably favoured a fun, upbeat approach over more sentimental approaches.  

Witts: During COVID, high-end restaurants pivoted to provide customers with their dining experience at home. The helpfulness continues with Neil Perry offering up a lavish 'finish-at-home' Christmas feast. Likewise, Atlas Dining in Melbourne who were one of the at-home success stories of the past two years, is offering up its Christmas box for the second year running. A perfect solution for those who want to take the pain of preparing the Christmas feast away.  

Last year for Myer, we wrote a new Christmas carol to encourage Australians to wrap up every special event they had missed during the pandemic into one day, making Christmas ‘Bigger than Christmas’. This year, we are singing a different tune. The 'Vague Carol' is a remake of a classic Christmas carol with lyrics that celebrate the frustratingly vague gift requests our family and friends sometimes subject us to. Myer's biggest strength at Christmas time is in gifting and the message of 'Unriddle Christmas' is all about helping Aussies figure out the perfect gift for even the most difficult person to buy for. As well as this, the famous Myer in store Giftorium, the gift guides and gift curation in social highlights the vague requests like 'you know what I like' and guides the customer to the perfect gift.  

Being helpful to all those people who do the work to make this Christmas extra special after the misery of lockdowns. That’s what Christmas is about this year.

Don’t miss out on the wealth of insight and content provided by CMO A/NZ and sign up to our weekly CMO Digest newsletters and information services here.  

You can also follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page        



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