Written by Jon Workman, Creative Director
It’s official, the Christmas juggernaut has rolled into town. Acres of shelves are filling with festive stuff – Quality Street, Secret Santa gifts and decorations are popping up all over the shop. My first official sighting of mince pies this year was in bloody August.
After another news-heavy year – is it any wonder that retailers and brands are clamouring for the sanctuary and safety of Christmas? Its indulgent, celebratory respite has come to define so much of the year, both for life in general but for brands too.
Encouragingly in recent years Christmas has become the UK’s version of the Superbowl, where ad breaks are filled with brands going head-to-head to win the public’s imagination. Advertising becomes social currency again as we discuss opinions of the new John Lewis offering while smashing down half a dozen mince pies.
At Christmas, there are genuine expectations from the wider world for brands to deliver in bigger and better ways. And although you could say the pressure of this is unrealistic or unsustainable – its way, way better than the indifference that can sadly be the norm for the rest of the year. So just why does Christmas have all the fun – can’t we share the love around a little more?
Christmas in ad-land will be different this year. Firstly, at least two of the traditional ‘big hitters’ of John Lewis and Sainsburys have new agencies looking at their campaigns for the first time. It will be fascinating to see any new directions and who comes out on top.
Secondly, and without wishing to be a doomsayer waving at the looming apocalypse, there are also a couple of dilemmas to consider. In the wake of celebrity scandals in 2023, will brands feel confident enough to go down the celebrity route and have a famous face front their campaigns?
In a divided world, do we as an entertainment industry, choose to mirror real life to feel genuine (but potentially also a bit miserable) or offer escapism from it and risk seeming out of touch?
Advertising spend last Christmas showed the first decrease in 14 years, down by 5.8% to £8.6bn, so it will be interesting to see if this trend continues too. Will the cost of living crisis mean a tightening of budgets or splashing of cash to recoup annual shortfalls?
Let’s not forget that clients play a huge part in festive creative success due to their expectations. Christmas briefs ask of us only the very best. Clients brief us months in advance, with budgets ranging from great to downright obscene. Nothing is out of scope. Media plans all have TV at their core but also require real innovation in social, activation and PR. I wish more briefs in the year could be like this.
Agencies can play by different rules at Christmas too. We like to show off our creativity with the tricky ‘agency Christmas card’ – the most open of all briefs to allow us to demonstrate our personalities and capabilities. Why predominantly at Christmas? Marketing would benefit from more edge and agency personality applied to every brief throughout the year.
So, my challenge to us all in the industry is to try and spread the Christmas cheer, literally, throughout the year. Is that such a naïve idea? The rules, expectations and (whisper it) some of the budgets we all need to achieve effective work shouldn’t be monopolised by Christmas. Let’s, as the cliché goes, make sure ‘Christmas is all wrapped up’, but challenge ourselves to use the same creative-focused approach all year round too.