It’s Christmas time and this means mince pies, twinkly lights and, inevitably, Christmas adverts – which this year have been surprisingly cheery.
2016 has delivered a series of political and social curveballs and that’s why ads like John Lewis’ Buster the Boxer have been so warmly received. We’ve seen a distinct shift from the 'sadvertising' of 2015 to this year’s positive campaigns. Featuring a little girl and her pet dog, and following criticism that last year’s ad was too much of a tearjerker, the ad capitalises on the happiness, comfort and fantasy that is traditionally associated with Christmas.
Perhaps John Lewis did not know this when it was conceived, but it has produced a campaign that is perfect for our time by offering a degree of escapism to remove us from the reality of our own lives and provide a respite from the uncertainty that has come to characterise 2016 in all of our minds.
In troubled times, John Lewis reminds us of all that is good in the world.
And it’s clear that consumers need comforting. According to GfK, consumer confidence continues to dip, dropping 5 points to -8 in the last quarter of 2016. As is the case during any period of intense change, people are scared. And rhetoric driven by fear is inevitably negative in nature. While as an industry we are undoubtedly rocked by the uncertainty that events such as the EU referendum propagate and heighten, we have an opportunity to develop content that doesn’t reflect that reality.
Advertising and, more widely, marketing is naturally a product of the environment in which it operates, but as marketers we are faced with a choice as we come to the end of one of the most tumultuous years in recent memory.
The question remains: should brands try to connect with people by reflecting their reality or is this an opportunity to provide a level of escapism and fantasy to the average consumer? Just as social media feeds tend to reflect the greatest hits of our lives, so brands can make us feel good about the world we live in.
Ultimately, positivity pays – according to a ZenithOptimedia report, The Pursuit of Happiness, brands that can help millennials achieve happiness stand the best chance of developing a long-term relationship and fostering a sense of loyalty to the brand. More than any other demographic, millennials want to engage with brands that give them a positive experience and have a positive brand purpose.
So, brands can use their position and attention to promote positive thinking. For instance, Danish mobile services company Call Me uses its communications to ask people to speak to each other politely, painting a more positive outlook on the world.
As confidence remains shaky, people want to trust the brands they engage with and reassurance about the future is key. Now more than ever, brands looking to be smart about how they connect with their customer base need to have a positive view of the future and effectively portray that on screen and across digital platforms.
Of course, Christmas time invariably lends itself to those campaigns offering an escape, allowing us to bask in the magic of the festive season. Marketers take note: people want to see a bright and optimistic future and the brands that can credibly provide that will be the ones to succeed in 2017.
And I don’t know about you, but I could do with a little more cheer all year round.
Debbie Klein is founding partner and chief executive of Engine, Europe and Asia Pacific. She tweets @girlfromafrica