What stories will be told this Christmas?

According to the Campaign email that popped into my inbox recently, research by the Advertising Association and Warc dashes earlier hopes about an advertising market improvement by Christmas, with a forecast downturn of 10.5% in the last three months of 2020. The first of the regular Christmas line-up, M&S, has announced they won’t be running a clothing ad, but focusing on food this year.

The retail industry, like so many others, has been ravaged by the pandemic, so does that mean the other brand powerhouses will be following suit? UK Covid infections are depressingly increasing which will inevitably lead to much stricter local or even national lockdown restrictions. It’s undoubtedly going to be a much more muted affair all-around this year as marketing budgets are more focused on service and confidence messaging; in M&S’s own words they will be “…focusing on helping our customers shop with confidence instore and online, as well as delivering the magic and sparkle customers expect of M&S – as ever, we’ll be doing that through a wide range of customer channels”.

So, that’s it this year for the big-spending, warm and fuzzy Christmas adverts from the likes of John Lewis, Sainsbury’s and many other seasonal contributions, right? Well, not necessarily; from a brand perspective, the emphasis on the appropriate tone and message will be more important than ever-before; I suspect we’ll see a greater range of reassurance, support and thanks will be the focus this time around with many hasty productions in process as this is being written no doubt.

Traditionally, Christmas advertising can be a creative agency’s art director’s wet dream; coming up with the Holy Grail of the season – that most memorable, talked about and shared campaigns created with seemingly a limitless budget. There have been some stunning campaigns and, no doubt as you read this, several come to mind…‘plug boy’ in the Sainsbury’s 2018 school-play themed ad still ranks mine of recent times; still makes me smile thinking about it now. One of my others, (and from just Googling it, I can’t believe it was made in 2011) is the John Lewis ‘The long wait’…Christmas storytelling at its very best.

Creatively for agencies, this year may be perhaps the most challenging of briefs and budgets in recent memory and what stories are to be told for the conclusion of 2020. I for one, will look forward to seeing what’s on our screens this season, what pitch is taken and by whom and how agencies rise to the challenge. And, whilst it’s an uncertain future for all, Christmas can never be cancelled – reflective of the mood and situation for sure, but with enough doom and gloom to date and potentially more on the horizon as we stride into an uncertain end to the year and 2021 (did someone say Brexit?), it’s surely more of a message of hope we should be looking towards. Resolution, dig in, make the best of it, see it through and look towards a better tomorrow may be perhaps be some of the themes, but we also saw a lot of that in the spring with a strong solidarity theme – indeed we created the same ourselves. So, let’s see something to make us smile, feel positive, warm, and believe that there IS a better tomorrow ahead.

Big briefs and challenging times like this will see the best brands stepping up, staking a claim with a positive stance. A time to be bold. A time to be brave. After all, it’s Christmas we’re talking about here – the big Kahuna of advertising and marketing. If there’s ever a year for hope and optimism, I can’t think of a better one.

No pressure then, adland.