Nostalgia, influencers dressed as elves, and no ruddy Brexit - Christmas campaign predictions

With the festive campaigns from big retailers set to be released imminently, we ask some top creative PR minds to gaze into their crystal balls and take a punt on what to expect.

Which Christmas campaigns will tickle families' baubles? (©GettyImages)
Which Christmas campaigns will tickle families' baubles? (©GettyImages)

Lotte Jones, partner, Freuds

The reality is that Christmas ad campaigns get planned months in advance, so we’ll most likely be enjoying the fruits of a creative process which happened back in early 2019. Early this year we thought Brexit would have peaked by March, so don’t think we can expect many stark reflections of our current political shit show.

Because of this planning issue, however, the timeless seasonal themes of togetherness, love to all and good cheer could well come across as completely tone deaf to our current cultural climate if they’re too exuberant.

Because politics will be at fever pitch, wiser brands will do well to lean on their PR and social media teams to help flex their tone and messaging during the intense period of cultural change.

Politics aside, I feel like we need a campaign that subverts the traditional anatomy of a Christmas campaign. I think we’re ready for at least one brand to side-step the seasonal sentimentality and hit us with a real Bad Santa creative more suited to our British cynicism.

Peter Mountstevens, chief creative officer and managing partner, Taylor Herring

Given that emotive nostalgia is the (not so) secret sauce that triggers consumers at Xmas, it’s highly unlikely that ad-land will be concerned with anything which overtly references the immediate (and highly divisive) political climate.

So, expect more of the same seasonal schmaltz – and rightly so!

Christmas campaigns are choc-full of creative ‘remixes’ because that’s what the public want – an escape from the day-to-day drudgery, a season of comfort and joy, a warm ‘Brexit-free bubble bath’ of feel-good seasonal nostalgia.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the cavalcade of clichés and, equally to the one or two landmark campaigns which genuinely blaze a new trail and remain imprinted on our memories for years to come ala Westjet’s ‘Christmas Miracle, ‘The long wait’ from John Lewis & Sainsbury’s epic ‘1914’.

The impact of the election will of course be that we are going to see fewer earned opportunities for seasonal campaigns as the election hoovers up the column inches. This may leave some agencies tearing their hair out whilst others will be making the most of our professions’ agility and looking at how they can work the news agenda to their client’s advantage.

Whatever happens, it’s going to be an interesting time for all of us, featuring an uneasy blend of divisive, generation-defining issues combined with the biggest marketing campaigns of the year reminding us that it’s the season of ‘goodwill to all men’ - barmy Brexit Britain in excelsis.

Kat Thomas, global executive creative director, One Green Bean

At the heart of it, social purpose is about appealing to consumers who want to make a positive difference with their purchases. Christmas and charity partnerships have gone hand-in-hand for decades, but it’ll be on steroids this year as brands flex their muscle of responsibility.

I’d like to see the tear-jerker big budget ads trade up from their predictable ‘buy the matching toy in-store’ approach, to initiatives that are genuinely meaningful and participatory. People want more than just a warm and fuzzy feeling, they want to feel like they’ve actively contributed.

This year consumers will grapple with their ‘Christmas conscience’. Whether it’s a social media movement to ban Christmas crackers and their crappy plastic gifts, through to people thinking twice about whether they need a tree dying in the corner of their living room, pockets of Britain will be thinking more about the benefits of going back to basics. Which means a bigger emphasis on the 'three Fs' - family, food and the feel-good festive factor. (Make that five Fs!) The brands and retailers that can alleviate the guilt factor around Christmas will thrive, from vegan turkeys to bees wax wrapping paper.

"But fear not, there will still be the festive stunts with bells on. News desks and picture editors will be so fatigued by Brexit that there’s definitely potential for this to be the silliest silly season of a generation.

Henry Warrington, partner, Third City

Christmas is a time for togetherness and, with the divisions caused by Brexit and a Christmas election, I expect this to be a strong creative theme this year. It’s also likely that brands will stick to the comfortable and familiar, fronted by trusted faces. We’ve already seen Marks and Spencer announce they are using celebrities who are already under contract, including Amanda Holden, rather than the bigger budget productions or celebrity ‘hero signings’ of Christmases past.

With numerous clients, we’ve seen that in times of uncertainty, people want comfort (online dating numbers go up, for example), so expect the nostalgia to be dialled up even further – things to make you feel better and remind you of happier times, which appeal to both sides of the Brexit divide. Walkers, for example, have revealed they’ve brought Mariah Carey, singer of one of the nation’s best-loved Christmas songs, on board for ‘Crispmas’.

Joe Mackay-Sinclair, co-founder and executive creative director, The Romans

I know the PR industry loves to talk about how we’re imminently about to eat adland’s lunch, but in reality Christmas is the time those lads earn their bonuses. Every PR campaign for a retailer at Christmas is almost universally a piss-weak version of the TV spot.

I predict this year will be more of the same: a couple of pop-ups, a bunch of influencers dressed as elves, some sort of ‘woke’ advent calendar, a vegan rewrite of the 12 Days of Christmas, you know the sort of schtick.

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