Holiday Marketing – Striking the right balance

How easy is it to take advantage of holiday themes and emotions in marketing? For example, promoting the romantic joy of Christmas – the scenes of happy families gathered around a crackling log fire, the sparkle of tinsel and baubles, the beautiful pile of gifts under the tree – when there is a worldwide cash crisis and a war rumbling in the headlines? It’s a very tricky balancing act, if you ask me.

The wonderful appeal of Christmas is that it gives us a rare opportunity to try and leave reality outside in the cold. Just for a brief few days. We know it’s largely an illusion but we simply don’t care. It’s a time to cook our favourite festive dishes with loved ones before recovering on the sofa to watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Again! But what happens when that illusion is undermined by the serious day-to-day struggles of those around us?

“Christmas ads play an important part in kicking off the festive season for many people and giving them a boost,” says Lynne Deason, head of creative excellence at UK consultants Kantar. “Brands who take active steps to make a genuine difference to those in need this Christmas will be appreciated and remembered.”

For marketers, it is clearly about achieving a careful balance – joyful illusion vs. appreciation of tough times – which is much easier said than done. It’s fascinating to watch this year’s collection of Christmas ads and imagine the many creative conversations – heated, hopeful, risky, doubtful, research-based – that produced them.

So we can see ads trying to reach consumers who want to spend less than last year, but still want to have an uplifting and celebratory time. Tone-deaf ads that encourage unrealistic spending are thin on the ground, but luckily the party-pooping ‛Sadvertising’ has become a relic of the deep pandemic of Christmas 2020. Spreading Christmas cheer is back, but it is being blended with respect for the challenges we face. 

Here are four Christmas ads from around the world that tried to achieve a cheery balance:

1. Christmas tears of happiness

Chevrolet is compiling a list of beautifully made films and this year’s Christmas campaign, ‘Mrs Hayes’, is another cinematic gem that also works wonderfully as an ad. It tells the story of a woman who lost her husband in the war many moons ago but has found a new family in the neighborhood she has settled down in – particularly her friendship with a young boy named Billy. It starts sadly but gradually becomes more and more heart-warming. The ad offers powerful messages of family, love, and community… Christmas, in other words, starring a cool car in the background.

2. ‘Tis the season to be jolly

Sometimes some silly Elf-based nonsense – and star quality – is all you need. Will Ferrell’s iconic character, Buddy has helped a film by Asda, the ex-Walmart owned grocery chain, become the most effective of the season, according to UK consultants System!. Using special visual effects, Buddy endures a classically chaotic trial shift at the store, but as part of the ad campaign he can also be heard over the real-life store speakers. It’s fun, Christmassy, uplifting and memorable, yet not overly commercial.

3. The gift of experience

Forget spending money you don’t have on material things. How about spending money you do have – especially if you’ve just won it on the lottery – on creating great memories, like the trip of a lifetime with your elderly father? That’s the message of the ad ‘Husky Frida’ by the Dutch State Lottery. The son visits his father in an old people’s home and declares: “We are going on one more dog-sledding adventure…” Plane rides, new warm clothes, the cold backwoods and laughing in bars is heart-warming without being schmaltzy. What the Christmas spirit should really be about.

 4. A seriously funny festive season

UK chipmaker Walkers teamed up with Comic Relief, a charity, to launch a festive campaign designed to get people to talk more openly about their feelings. At Christmas time, 52% of us, according to their research, are not honest about how happy we are feeling. The ad, ‛Twas the Night Before Christmas’ shows a man at a party accompanied by a cartoon emoji to show his true inner feelings. The emoji device works well, summing up how we are often forced to keep up appearances. Walkers will be donating £2m to Comic Relief and other wellbeing projects. Philippa Pennington, Walkers’ marketing manager, sums it up: “It can help to open up and talk about your feelings…” The campaign shows that a serious Christmas message can be very effective when deftly treated.

If you need assistance creating a well-balanced marketing campaign, at any time of year, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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