Christmas advertising reserves a special seat at the emotional table for all of us.

For even the biggest bah humbugs out there, there will always be moments, memories and stories which stick with us for life. For the public these are cultural touchpoints to gather around. For agencies, it is a time to puff out our chests and take big swings at ideas that make us proud to be part of the magic.

Christmas advertising John Lewis penguin

Over the years, several seasonal giants have risen and made profound cultural impact; Guinness in the snow, John Lewis’ ‘Bear and the Hare’ and even M&S’ stalwart ‘It isn’t just’ campaigns all have lasting impact on what we come to expect from Christmas advertising.

But as of late, we can feel a shift in the strategy and purpose of big brands’ seasonal releases. As an industry we’ve gotten better and better at producing these campaigns, and in the process, we may be losing a bit of the magic and emotion they can capture. Natural love, natural buzz and cultural truth are all difficult to replicate, and we’re feeling the strain.

It may be time to strip things back and look at the essentials. But first, why do we believe this is happening?

“It’s the moooooost bankable time of the year”

It is no secret that there has been a significant rise in brand strategies that focus on short term gains in the industry. The exponential growth of digital advertising and the efficient targeting capabilities that accompany the channel is a very attractive prospect for brands to communicate. This digital-first approach has resulted in a natural lean towards tactical focussed campaigns that call for immediate signs of ROI.

In terms of how this translates to creativity at Christmas, we see ideas that are strictly geared towards selling must have gifts, foods or even the advert’s hero (insert cuddly Penguin, Dragon, Brussel Sprout).

Backed with slick PR launches and seamless product integration, these campaigns guarantee short term buzz but run the risk of diluting the potency of Christmas for brands. This shift asks that Christmas campaigns be jack of all trades, master of none. What started as brand communications have slowly become a series of tactical sales pushes over the ‘golden quarter’.

This industry shift to short-term wins must be coupled with the fact that for consumers, the sheer volume and number of channels that expose us to brand messages has skyrocketed. Like it or not, brands are everywhere, all the time, especially at Christmas. This Christmas is no exception, with Nielsen reporting a record festive advertising investment of around £7.9bn. Things are going to get loud.

And on these channels, branded content has been carefully refined to capture our attention even when we scroll faster than the speed of Santa. YouTube pre-rolls, Instagram stories and Tik Tok trends are all key formats to disrupt whatever else consumer were doing to make us think of spending at Christmas.

These industry shifts can be viewed as both a blessing and a curse. The traditionalists will say they are severely impacting long term brand equity, while others, will say technological advancement has given every brand, irrespective of budget, a seat at the Christmas communications table. At Ardmore, we like to think we have a team that brings the best of both of these perspectives.

More importantly, what we can all agree on is that the biggest point of difference is the creativity through which brands try to win our hearts and minds at Christmas.

So, if that is what really matters, how can brands stay focussed and do it right?

The spirit of Christmas (Advertising)

  • Forget trends, just echo what we all love about the season

Great advertising is traditionally based off ideals and emotions that we all know and understand. Friendship, belonging, love, passion, kindness and even fear are all feelings that are universal irrespective of gender, age or nationality. Emotion is a fundamental ingredient that must exist in winning hearts and minds of consumers through advertising.

Advertising that has staying power doesn’t need to focus on specifics. It doesn’t need to be self-referential, do a year in review or worse yet, remind us about anything even remotely associated with COVID.

For a truly impactful piece of brand communications, create a story that has the relatable components to let it run every year; no matter what the prevailing headwinds are.

  • Invest in a way to make it loved

The frequency of new brand advertising and content in general, makes it hard for ideas to have a shelf life beyond a week. To cut across the tinsel-covered noise of Christmas themed brand communications, impactful advertising must have a unique element to it that has the sole purpose of making it memorable and popular.

Think of it as the link people use to describe the ad to each other. “You know, the one with Elton John” or “holidays are coming, holidays are coming”. These can be executional flourishes that complement the big idea. A nostalgic music track, a memorable personality or even a smart beat in the script that can make everyone smile.

Cutting through the noise to win space for brands in our memory has never been more important – the most effective way to do this is adding influences from popular culture to help make ideas stick.

Conclusion – But all hope is not lost

Although this can all seem a bit doom and gloom for the season, it’s important to note that this observed trend has exceptions to the norm that fill us with hope.

Coca Cola’s new ‘Chimney’ spot from DentsuMB is ticking all boxes for us, complete with that warm, fuzzy feeling inside. The underlying idea is trend-proof – relying on togetherness, community and universal shorthand knowledge (Santa needs a chimney). The execution sticks to us as well, just teetering between possible and fantastical.

Masterful brand comms haven’t gone away; Great creative work and mounting evidence from industry thought leaders is helping to turn the rudder on effectiveness and reacquaint us with the big ideas we love so much.

For many brands, it is more important than ever to build a long-term voice for the season. The recipe for great Christmas communications exists and is evergreen, we only need take the time to think about what really matters to us most.