Christmas – a challenging gift for marketers

Have you seen him yet? In shop windows, on TV ads or billboards? The bearded fellow with an optimistic grin, rosy cheeks and a distinctive red and white suit? If not, it’s only a matter of time, as Christmas will come early this year with brands desperate to market their festive-season products using Father Christmas, the ultimate symbol of generosity. And sack-loads of spending. 

Choosing the right day to give Santa his debut this year will be a tricky call for marketers. Get a jump on the competition as fast as possible? Or, in the fall-out of a serious pandemic that has had an appalling affect on so many people’s lives, is that tasteless? Should they defer promoting the frivolity and financial pain of Christmas?

Despite all the doom and gloom – and the spoil-sport rules stopping us all from socialising – brands can, according to Facebook, help to de-Grinch Christmas. “Brands have yet another opportunity to play a unique role in helping customers and communities – from inspiring them to rekindling the festive spirit to providing frictionless ways to shop for gifts for friends, family and themselves,” points out Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook VP EMEA. 

And the good news for brands is that Christmas shoppers still intend to shop. More than 70% do not plan to spend less than last year, according to Rakuten Advertising, even though 40% of global shoppers have suffered a drop in household income due to Covid-19. The shopping frenzy of Black Friday remains a great opportunity, with 57% plotting to flash the cash. In the UK, perhaps surprisingly, 27% are even looking to increase their family spend this Christmas.

Flexibility is also key

Choosing the right marketing content is arguably even more important than the timing. Campaigns will have to be more flexible than ever before. Local, regional and national regulations will continue to be amended in response to changes in the transmission rate of the virus. And hanging in the starry winter night is the threat of a second wave. 

This, then, is the year of contingencies and if-this-is-then-that planning. “We’re dealing with a set of questions and circumstances that we’ve never had to deal with going into Christmas, and that’s why flexibility will be key,” Helen Normoyle, chief marketing officer of Boots, a sister company to Walgreens, told The Drum.

“The big challenge for all retailers when it comes to Christmas this year is the question of will we be in or out of lockdown? What will that do to how people are shopping? And what will it mean for demand in-store and online? All of us are sitting here thinking about how this will be a Christmas like no other. Hopefully there will never be a Christmas like it again and we find a vaccine or other solutions.”

Perfect platforms

It’s unsurprising that many businesses have been delaying or tweaking their messaging as they wait to assess the impact of the latest changes. Catch the national mood, however, and dedicating time and money to a major marketing drive can pay dividends. 

The choice of platform on which to focus campaigns will also be challenging. One thing’s for sure, many of us will be looking forward to the first TV ad that captures our imagination. That’s one of the reasons so many brands spend a huge amount of time and effort creating wonderful films that bring Christmas to life. 

Over the years, many have become classics. Apple’s Frankie’s Holiday has a lot of fans. Beautifully put together, it unapologetically tugs at the  heartstrings with a Christmas-loving Frankenstein creating a song on his iPhone 7 to perform for the local villagers.

In the UK, the grocery chain Sainsbury’s had a massive hit with 2014, a film that riffed on true-life events on the frontline in WWI, when Allied and German troops sang together and played football.

Some ads are schmaltzy but nonetheless heartwarming, like John Lewis’s Snow Man Love Story, while others prefer an edgy spoof – such as IRN-Brus’ Snowman.

It’s always risky to invest heavily in a major TV campaign, but less so this year. While socialising may be tricky, Christmas won’t be cancelled. Lockdowns may even end up with a greater TV audience, with families watching the box together as well as enjoying streaming services on their own. Social media, as ever, can be exploited to add heft and reach to these campaigns. 

But spare a thought for those Santas, whenever they first appear. It is not just budget-challenged parents facing a stark post-Covid reality, warns a gloomy Stephen Arnold, president of the 2,300-strong International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas. “Santas are concerned about catching it [the virus] as they are immunocompromised,” he told the New York Times. “Almost all of us have diabetes, heart conditions and are overweight and elderly.”

It sounds as though Santas should go easy on the Christmas pudding!

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