Santa’s fizzy drink truck – you know the one – has driven its way back out of town and the broadcast space has put away its tinsel-ified TV ads for another year. How did the big brands do with communicating Christmas 2022 during such a difficult time for their consumer bases?
Excess was out and more mindful messages of personal connection were in – with a tough year ahead for many, 2023 will need the same careful approach. Here is what we can learn from the successes of our recent Christmas past in PR, communications and marketing.
How did the supermarkets do? Nostalgia versus realism
‘I loved the Asda Christmas ad for 2022, but John Lewis really hit the mark and showed that the brand understands people,’ says Aura’s Laura Sutherland of the efforts from UK supermarkets this year.
Asda’s ‘Have Your Elf a Merry Christmas’ provided escapism from the realities of 2022– ‘a moment of joy‘, according to Asda brand communications’ senior director Stephi Brett-Lee – by tapping into fondness for the 2003 Will Ferrell film…
…while John Lewis leaned into reality with ‘The Beginner’, a tale of a foster father hoping to welcome a new addition to his family by learning skateboarding:
‘Asda played on the nostalgic factor and created a highly entertaining and funny ad with Buddy the Elf, but John Lewis got it spot on with another engaging campaign that drew attention to an important cause, started conversation and got the public mood right,’ says Paul McCarthy, general manager at Chantry Place Norwich.
While Asda took note of its consumer base’s wish for a ‘no-compromise’ Christmas with the cheery ad, the campaign at-large did not ignore the situation many were faced with this year. In November 2022, reporting on budgeting for Christmas increased by 486% year on year – adverts, no matter how ‘no-compromise’, had to follow suit. Asda chose to blend fantasy into representations of its real-life stores with expensive SFX, but the campaign also extended out to toy drives in-store and the promise of ‘festive surprises’ for community groups. This added to initiatives the supermarket had already put in place to help the cost-of-living crisis, which have received plenty of positive coverage in the press.
In contrast, the always highly-anticipated John Lewis advert was empty of Asda’s hyper-real bright greens and reds. Instead, it featured concrete skateparks, the odd injury sustained when learning a new hobby and a recognisably-real family living room. A departure from the previous years’ sci-fi-heavy ‘Unexpected Guest‘, the ‘The Beginner’ highlighted human issues instead of ETs, gaining positive write-ups and reaction for its focus on fostering and the UK care system.
2022 was not the year for false-ringing sentimentality or mawkishness – as economic struggles continue for many, 2023 will not be either.
‘Many of the high-street brands that have become synonymous with big-budget Christmas ads took a community/social responsibility approach for 2022 which made sense to me,’ says Robert Bradley, centre manager at Castle Quarter.
‘M&S had the message that by spending with them we were supporting good causes and the John Lewis ad took shopping all together, instead focusing on a foster family storyline. Interestingly though, despite the cost-of-living crisis and more and more people turning to food banks, the food arms of both brands did not shy away from showing large tables heaped with food in their Christmas ads. I personally found the child crying due to missing out on a sausage to be in quite bad taste…’
Another lesson to be learned for comms people – Christmas campaigns can do well outside of television. Eschewing the ‘traditional, multimillion-pound Christmas ad‘ for its 2022 festive effort was Co-op, which instead teamed up with Your Local Pantry and Big Zuu for an Instagram livestream.
Retail – Tales of a ‘Traditional’ Happy Christmas… with some help
Next’s ‘Gifts we know they’ll love’ spot featured standard festive TV ad fare – people opening Christmas gifts (with household name brands inside, naturally) in front of a Christmas tree.
However, its urge to customers to ‘merry everything’ came with the offer of ‘help’ for making Christmas magical. The approach paid off in profits:
‘Retailers like Next did extremely well this Christmas period, reporting “better than anticipated” sales, and great feedback from comms campaigns,’ says Wizz Selvey, Top 100 global retail expert and founder and CEO of Wizz&Co retail strategy consultancy.
‘I always tell my retail clients, whether they are selling D2C or B2B, that the customer and their needs have to be at the centre of EVERY activation. This year customers needed simple solutions to gift giving that weren’t going to cost them dearly. Any retailer who was able to communicate ‘a solution’ to tighter budgets within the cost-of-living rise, would have had brilliant feedback from shoppers. Adding that ‘extra luxury’ element would increase sales revenues even further.’
‘The influx of ‘sadvertising’ this year was a depressing movement, however. As it was such a widespread theme, consumers don’t seem to have really reacted.’
Did shoppers show up for the high street?
Experiential marketing continues to be a safe bet for attracting footfall to physical locations – even when budgets are tighter. East Anglia’s Chantry Place Norwich – home to 90 shops, cafes and restaurants – brought the bright lights from brand ads with reasons for families to visit:
‘In 2022, we had a new Christmas lights scheme at the Centre, with free photo opportunities including a Santa’s sleigh and Trio of Twinkling Trees, plus pop ups returning for the festivities. We worked closely with a local charity Alive UK on a Christmas gift appeal and also had a post box in the Centre, granting wishes for presents as we knew that Christmas would be hard for many.
‘With the recession and cost-of-living crisis, we will continue to offer free events into 2023 for families to enjoy to give them a reason to visit and stay longer with us. We will also continue to be part of our community, working with other businesses and our neighbours at the Centre in a collaborative approach.’
How else can brands and businesses keep the customers coming, for Christmases of the future and throughout the year? As ever – by offering extra.
‘Retail did take a bit hit during the pandemic, but there are certainly sectors that have flourished within that,’ says Wizz.
‘For instance, any brand that has an active omnichannel mix of online, social media and in-store sales. From my perspective, the high street is far from ‘dead’, as so many tabloids are claiming, but there has been an irreversible shift in how consumers research, shop and loyalty following purchase as well. We’re all looking for that something extra!’
For more on purchasing trends during 2022, read our report on which brands were most likely to be gifted second-hand during the festive period. And for trends to plan for in 2023, check out these 15 PR and communications trends.