For brands – and agencies – Christmas is a time to do something a little bit special. From seasonal gift packaging to truly awesome integrated campaigns spanning advertising, packaging and beyond. Though most brands take advantage of the holiday season we asked a number of creatives for their thoughts on exemplary Christmas creative that veers from the norm.
Brands tend to take a well worn path at Christmas, focusing on gift giving and emotions, but for those few who dare to be different, doing something slightly off the beaten track can have more of an impact.
While this might not always pay off there are some who are rewarded for their quirky outlook on the holiday season.
Here creatives and designers from the likes of SeymourPowell, Lewis Moberly, Taxi Studio, SomeOne, Pearlfisher and more choose their stand out pieces of Christmas creative.
Toblerone – Ho! Ho! Ho! packaging
Neil Hirst, design director, Seymourpowell
Christmas is an opportunity for brands to benefit from the cuddly sentimentality of the season. However, to overestimate consumers' good will can backfire. Lazy or inept festive packaging designs can be seen as obviously cynical marketing. Rather than slapping a reindeer or two on their packs, brands that use wit and craft to catch the attention don’t just add a temporary sales increase but also contribute to the depth and integrity of the brand in the long term, increasing loyalty.
My favourite is still the Toblerone pack from 2006 which has the confidence to replace the brand name with ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’, adding an element of seasonal delight without losing recognition or self-respect.
Benefit Cosmetics – Sweet Shoppe
Kate Fischer, account director, Sun Branding Solutions
Benefit’s Christmas goodies this year are my top pick – the range shouts “buy me for your best friend and she’ll love you forever,” with product names, retro-modern colour palette, and woodland-themed animals that hit right at the core of the brand’s target market.
The consistency of detail carries through into the inside of the packs – testament if ever there was one that Benefit truly understands the power of the pack as a shop front, even after customers get it home.
Cadbury – Mini chocolate vending machine
Paul Taylor, executive creative director, BrandOpus
Excuse my nostalgia, but my favourite and most memorable example of Christmas packaging is the good old Dairy Milk Chocolate Dispenser. Circa 1980, it was the gift I coveted most because it had everything; Chocolate, play factor and the intrigue of ‘how does it work?’
From my mum’s perspective it was also a rather genius idea for both managing my chocolate consumption and instilling the principle of ‘saving’. It would ordinarily take until the end of February to have finally consumed the last chocolate, at which point I had amassed the princely sum of 20p that was instantly reinvested in a bag of flying saucers.
Oral B – 'Merry beeping Xmas'
Dan Gladden, design director, Pearlfisher
The annual Christmas ad campaigns have become a much anticipated, sometimes derided, but always emotionally driven storytelling brand experience – and usually the domain of our leading retail giants.
This year's Oral B 'Merry beeping Xmas' ad is a very funny and irreverent storytelling experience of its own. Its success rides on its brilliance in creating an honest emotional brand connection by depicting situations that everyone can relate to at this time of year. As a leading brand icon, the respect and assurance of quality is already defined through the brand and product design, meaning that the brand can behave in more playful and challenging ways through its other brand communications.
And this stroke of creative genius definitely means that 'At least you don't have to worry about your smile'.
Xevi Ramon – 'Santa' bakery bags
Simon Manchipp, founder & strategic creative director, SomeOne
I’d love to work on the Greggs brand. I’m really interested in how brands can be more loved by their audiences. How we can help create fans, not customers. Because that’s a better way to get into a relationship — don’t just sell to people, entertain them, populate culture and make an impact — give people something to take away from the experience, beyond the cheese roll.
I have no idea who designed this bread bag. Nor who it was for. Or even if it actually happened. But it’s so lovely, light hearted and utterly charming. Oh and would cost them nothing to do. It’s precisely the kind of work we set out to do for brands big and small — introduce charm into charmless categories. And heaven knows bakeries could do with that.
Imagine this at Greggs. You’d get queues down the street and social chatter galore. It’d probably break Instagram. Instead, we’ve got a cyan blue shop facade with some orange squares on it. Hardly the most appetising way to advertise baguettes, sausage rolls and yum yums.
Nick Rees, global creative director & partner, Bulletproof
It’s a pack (of sorts) and it’s got Santa on it… what more do you want?
This design was created by Spanish designer Xevi Ramon. It might be a bit of a cheat but it represents the kind of thinking that I like.
It’s succinct, direct and does the job by making a piece of paper into a nice little moment. I’m not sure if this is brilliant or lazy, but who cares? It’s got the big man on it and it made me smile.
Robot Food – Robot Roy
Simon Forster, creative director, Robot Food
We’d hesitate to call ourselves a traditional agency. But we do love a traditional Christmas. So this year, we sent out a festive gift that had Robot Food written all over it. We chose the time-honoured wooden nutcracker, and gave it a signature twist.
Fun, festive and distinctly on brand, Robot Roy stands ten inches tall and is hand-painted in bright primary colours. He’s packaged in an impressive bespoke black box made from ebony Colourplan by GF Smith. The in-house illustrations include a festive nuts and bolts pattern, which decorate the box edges. The design is applied in a tactile gold foil finish and the 50 limited edition boxes are sealed with a numbered label.
Harvey Nichols – Christmas pudding
Giles Calver, planning director, Sedley Place
Some designs stand the test of time and Michael Nash’s Christmas Pudding is one of these. The design seems as fresh and witty today as it did when I first saw it. What I like about the design is that it avoids all the usual visual clichés of Christmas.
There’s no steaming Christmas pudding on a plate adorned with ivy. Instead, the design wittily – and simply – plays on our associations with the festive period and takes us to that nostalgic childhood time when discovering the sixpence was a simple part of the ritual of Christmas dinner.
John Sherwood, design director, Design Bridge
Harvey Nics Christmas Puds. Simple and witty. Nostalgic but timeless.
Mary Lewis, creative director, Lewis Moberly
One of my all-time personal favourites. Signature packaging design for Harvey Nichols by Michael Nash (1994) was a benchmark in retail/departmental store brand design. Black and white photography set the tone, unexpected in the food category and largely distinctive for the store.
It was all so right. Quintessentially English in its restraint and wit, sophisticated in its tonality. This Christmas pudding was the jewel in the crown. A gorgeous observation, wonderfully tactile and no 'ho ho ho' – just a smile in the mind. We all want the sixpence; we all wanted to have done this.
The Gin Foundry – advent calendar
Natalie Maher, managing director – London, Good
The Gin Foundry exists to excite, educate and inform people about the wonders of gin, and this calendar could not fit the brief more precisely. This botanical-themed calendar is the packaging for 24 miniatures behind individual windows, each containing 30mls of a different gin.
There are two options – one with gins selected to emphasise different flavours, and one featuring gins from around the world. Both feature the same design – hand drawn plants and flowers used in making gin, in different and festive – but not garish – colours.
The overall effect is classy and understated. Packaging you’re excited to open every day? A real festive treat.
Game – Christmas Tinner
Steven Anderson, group creative director, Smith & Milton
I saw this last year – it’s bonkers and I’m still amazed it actually exists! It’s the whole of Christmas Day in a tin, from breakfast through to Christmas pudding, for gamers who don’t have time to stop and cook, or eat, their Christmas dinners.
While it’s a great marketing move from Game, there’s no question that its gourmet quality is probably about the same level as that of the pun – truly awful. In a sea of shelves groaning with either tasteful or cheesily festive, holly-and-ivy adorned packs, this stands out as being brilliantly wrong, on every level.
Spencer Buck, founder and creative partner, Taxi Studio
I’m not one to resist a good pun (well done), so when I stumbled across this last year, it really made me smile.
Not a gamer myself, but the insight and execution is on brand, good fun and extremely relevant to the target audience.
Harvey Nichols – Sorry I spent it on myself
Ben Cox, senior designer, ButterflyCannon
I really loved the 'Sorry I spent it on myself' Harvey Nichols packaging and ad campaign from 2013 by Adam&EveDDB.
The concept was for a range of unusual budget products that could be gifted to loved-ones, allowing the gift giver to spend more in store on themselves (perhaps a nod to Dickens' Scrooge). Supported with an advert in a very successful integrated campaign, it’s a brilliant and bold tongue in cheek play on self-indulgence, which sits at the heart of Harvey Nichol’s personality.
Dark humour is used in a clever way, making the idea of self-indulgence not only acceptable, but rather likeable and celebrated. The original packaging sold out within three days.
Kelly Bennett, Moyra Casey and Chris McDonald, creative partner, Afterhours
In the season of schmaltz where understatement is somewhat under represented and selfishness frowned upon, we love the Harvey Nichols 'Sorry I spent it on myself' Christmas campaign.
Brave on many levels, eschewing sentimentality for dry humour and gaudiness for simplicity, it's an idea that really stands out. More than Christmas packaging and more than a communications campaign, it provides shoppers with a funny idea. Not just for them but one that they can share with others.
In terms of the execution, everything's in on the joke- the product range itself, the clever copy writing, the subversion of Harvey Nichols premium brand values, even the pricing. This uncompromising approach makes it feel like less of a shameless Christmas 'cash-in' and more like a shared joke with customers.
This single-mindedness credits its audience with a grasp of irony and an appreciation of a clever concept, demonstrating that if done well, you can break rules, blur disciplines and be bold with design and still connect and engage. It reminds us that the best ideas are those that can be shared in the true spirit of Christmas.
Sainsbury's – Christmas in a day
Ben Wright, co-founder, DesignStudio
One piece of Christmas branding that stands out from the last few years is Sainsbury’s 2013 advert; Christmas in a day.
The full three-minute film uses clips from a longer documentary by Kevin McDonald that is made up of real footage from home videos. By using real videos, the advert achieves complete authenticity with the ability to make audiences laugh and cry.
This kind of approach embraces a real look at Christmas, rather than presenting a pastiche, which is often the main approach from brands at this time of year. It also acknowledged digital at the heart of the campaign with the full film using YouTube as its main channel and encouraged users to become engaged with the story through the hashtag #ChristmasInaDay
To view more Christmas creative work, visit The Drum's dedicated Christmas hub.