Harvey Nichols' budget Christmas campaign relies on smart PR rather than big media spend

Ironically for a firm which sells £2,000 handbags, Harvey Nichols has unveiled a Christmas campaign with far less money behind it than other retailers have deployed, meaning that it has had to rely instead on clever PR techniques and viral shareability.

Christmas joy, Harvey Nichols style
Christmas joy, Harvey Nichols style
Harvey Nichols declined to reveal the total budget for its Christmas campaign but it is believed to be a fraction of the £7m spent by John Lewis – and even more by Sainsbury’s.

Forget schmaltzy messages of love, peace and goodwill. Harvey Nichols has instead cut to the heart of the matter with the tongue-in-cheek message: get me what I really want for Christmas, or woe betide you – or, in its own words "Could I be any clearer?"

The store briefed ad agency Adam&Eve/DDB to create a viral, shareable film which promotes the use of special Christmas cards it has created to give to loved ones, telling them what they really want to see under the tree on 25 December.

One example of the cards reads: "Seasons Greetings... will be in short supply if you haven’t got me something knockout from Harvey Nichols."

Shoppers can go online and tag the gifts they want to a version of one of its special Christmas cards to give to a relative or friend.

The film tells the story of a woman and her much-loved ‘Auntie Val’ who always gives her something for Christmas that she does not want.

So, this year, she gives her favourite auntie a special card to tell her what she really wants.

"Everyone has an ‘Auntie Val’ who gives them a gift they will be disappointed with," said Rachel Roe, head of brand PR at Harvey Nichols. "There is a lot of schmaltz around at Christmas and this campaign does give Harvey Nichols a different personality at a crucial time of year."

The store has even commissioned research to underpin its campaign, from which it has extrapolated that adults receive more than £800m worth of unwanted gifts every Christmas, with 51 per cent of women and 48 per cent of men unhappy with the presents they unwrap.

Harvey Nichols eschewed buying air time or billboard space to promote the campaign.

"PR is highly important to what we do because we have very little money to spend," said Roe.

Instead, it is relying on the owned media of its famous shop windows in Knightsbridge and earned media via the shareability of its quirky message using social media channels.

"Social and PR are the only channels we are using," said Roe. "We’re known for our window displays, not just in London and the rest of the UK but internationally as well."

Using high-quality photography of its window displays and the story behind their creation, Harvey Nichols has used earned traditional media to promote them to the world.

So far, Roe estimates that nearly five million people have seen the displays because of coverage in The Guardian, The Times and The Express, as well as the New York Times and other international newspapers.

"We have a 2p budget," Roe joked. "So we have created a viral, shareable campaign which is nothing like John Lewis and there has been real pressure on Adam and Eve to deliver."

The result is a campaign with a sense of humour but which also contains a grain of truth, in a similar vein to last year’s award-winning campaign: ‘Sorry, I spent it on myself’.

"This campaign taps into an unsaid truth," said Roe. "People don’t make Christmas present lists anymore and they get disappointed with the presents they receive. We don’t like waste, particularly in the current climate, and we’ve created a campaign which articulates the idea of not having to return disappointing gifts, or people spending their hard-earned money on the wrong gift."

Aside from shareability, the special Christmas cards also have a second function, Roe revealed when asked how previous campaigns have directly affected the festive sales period.

She said: "It is always difficult to track the effect of the campaigns through the line but this time, although they only relate to our online sales, we will be able to see how many people used the cards so we have a measurement tool built in."

When the hubbub of the initial social media conversation begins to die down, Roe will choose that moment to launch a second weapon in the campaign arsenal.

During the survey that revealed the value of the UK’s unwanted gifts, respondents were also asked: what was the worst Christmas present they had ever received?

The answer to this question will become the subject of a second press release as well as a social media question to its followers.

"We will wait to see how the conversation is going following the initial launch and then choose our moment to give it a second push," said Roe. "You can imagine this question being tweeted quite widely."

So, Harvey Nichols has created a worthy successor to last year’s "Sorry, I spent it on myself’ with a brave campaign which is an antidote to the ‘love’ idea promoted by John Lewis or the ‘peace’ theme by Sainsbury’s, in favour of a distinctly acquisitive message, albeit one delivered with a humorous twist.

"We are a brand with a big personality," said Roe. "People will love it or hate it but this is what we do."

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