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How are big brands advertising this festive season?

Mellissa Flowerdew-Clarke
Mellissa Flowerdew-Clarke
VP of Marketing, EMEA
7 min read
10 November 2020

The Golden Quarter is the most lucrative time of year for retailers, with many brands relying on December for 50-80% of their total annual revenue. But with COVID-19 wreaking havoc, the festive season this year will be different for most. How can retailers hit their revenue target with brick and mortar stores continuing to struggle, and consumers saving more and spending less? And what does the current consumer mood mean for the boldly produced brand campaigns usually broadcast this time of year?

As England enters Lockdown 2.0 and non-essential stores close for the second period this year, retailers are bracing for an even tougher Q4.  With pre-christmas footfall now stationary, even if the lockdown eases as planned on the 2nd December, retailers are expecting a 62% drop in footfall Y-O-Y in the 6 weeks to Christmas. On a positive note, 42% of UK shoppers look set to spend the same amount as last year on their holiday purchases, with 27% looking to increase their spend on their immediate family. As this year has shown, online is the new high street. And for those who haven’t invested in their online customer experience, e-commerce and digital marketing, this year could well be a right off. 

Despite this gloomy introduction the show will go on for many brands, but the script might be different. 

No more fairytales

Marketing expert Mark Ritson advises that in addition to avoiding unhelpful statistics that try and predict the future spending habits of consumers, brands should read the mood of their target audiences before settling on a campaign for Christmas. 

In a recent survey of 2,000 adults, a third of consumers stated that they would feel less positivity for brands that spend big bucks on Christmas adverts. Furthermore, three-quarters of the participants indicated brands should not produce the normal style of holiday advertising. As the stark reality of life in a pandemic sets in for the long term, consumers are displaying a preference for real-life narratives, not the fictional characters and fantasy settings we have grown accustomed to seeing. As M&S Food marketing director Sharry Cramond shared, “consumers have told us they don’t want fairy tales.”  For the big brands who normally mark the beginning of the holiday season with boldly produced ads, this means potentially rethinking their traditional approaches. 

So far, there’s been quite a mix of Christmas ad drops, with brands either embracing the reality of a pandemic Christmas or, on the opposite side, focusing on the nostalgia of previous years. For example, Amazon has crafted an emotional ad which follows the story of a young ballet dancer whose dreams of dancing in a lead role are ruined by the coronavirus pandemic, while Aldi has brought back Kevin the Carrot, marking the fifth year the character has starred in the retailer’s festive ads. The litmus test will be John Lewis; always eagerly anticipated, the tone that it adopts for its Christmas campaign may well set the bar. 

Despite how glossy and on point a Christmas ad may be however, brands may have already set the tone for how successful they’ll be this festive period…

Naughty or nice makes all the difference

Social consciousness is on the rise. In fact, 35% of consumers have reported they have paid far closer attention to how companies have behaved since the onset of the pandemic, and almost eight in 10 say they are more likely to buy from brands that have behaved well during the coronavirus crisis. 79% of holiday shoppers say they will spend with companies that didn’t engage in negative practices during the pandemic such as price gouging, failing to introduce appropriate safety measures, or not looking after their employees’ welfare. For those brands who failed to make a positive impression, the winter could be even harsher.

Perception is power in brand world, so companies like Brewdog and Burberry will be ahead in the race to hit targets; they were not only quick to respond with safety measures, but also adapted and offered their consumers  products and services relevant to the current pandemic. Brewdog started making Brewgel, a branded hand sanitiser. Burberry joined forces with Marcus Rashford’s food poverty campaign, providing donations to fund over 200,000 meals distributed across 11,000 charities and community groups across the UK. Headspace created a free collection of mental health support applications in their Weathering the Storm category. H&M quickly pivoted its supply chain to manufacture PPE equipment for hospitals. And although it was initially judged for its warehouse conditions, marketplace giant Amazon did remove over half a million items due to price gouging, placing them in a far more favourable consumer light. 

Partnerships trending

Echoing the sentiment of teamwork, we’ve also seen a variety of brand partnerships cropping up this year. From FMCG to technology,  fashion to children’s toys, partnerships are on the rise.  One of the greatest benefits to a partnership is gaining a lot of attention for a little spend. However, in order to do this, brands need to find a partner that is ‘similar but different enough’ to attract the media. Obviously, for a partnership to be equitable, both brands need to benefit equally.

Some partnerships set to scoop up this season include Louis Vuitton, who has partnered with BMW to create a tailor-made set of luggage crafted in carbon fibre for the newly launched BMW i8.  Porsche and Puma have teamed up to give consumers 2.7 seconds (the same time it takes the 911 Turbo to go from 0 to 60 mph) to buy sneakers in the “World’s Fastest Sneaker Release” during a pre-sale this month.  Joules, the premium British lifestyle brand, who has joined forces with the Woodland Trust, planting a tree for every one of the edit’s 19 products sold during the Christmas period. And Lego and Adidas, who have joined forces for a totally retro reunion, combining the primary colours of the Lego brand to the Adidas Original shoe style. 

New luxury in the new normal

There’s been a revolution in the luxury segment which could pay dividends for brands this season. Luxury has opened its gates of exclusivity, redefining itself with a new approach of inclusivity focusing on experiences, not just products. 

“New luxury” openly uses the cultural codes of mainstream pop culture to appeal to the many, even if only the few can actually afford to buy its products. From Maserati to Teslar, Gucci to Dior and new players like Supreme and Fenty, the list of new luxury brands is diverse. So whether you can afford the £5,000 handbag or the £100 phone case, there is a way to feel a part of the tribe. While the average earner might not be rushing out to buy the newest sports car, people will treat themselves and, indeed, their loved ones this Christmas with lower ticket luxury items. 

This festive season will be a tough one for retailers and brands, but by being sympathetic to the current consumer mood, embracing new approaches, and ensuring a slick, personalised and efficient online customer experience, all is not lost.

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VP of Marketing, EMEA

Mellissa Flowerdew-Clarke